fiction writing

  • As a Writer You are IMMORTAL

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    Writing is one of the oldest and most important skills that humankind has ever developed.

    As a specie on this planet it’s enabled us to game Nature’s systems to the point where we’ve become the ultimate overachievers. The ability to accumulate knowledge over the centuries, and even accelerate that accumulation, is supernatural in scope.

    And yet we take it for granted.

    As other species plod along through evolution, slowly storing up success stories in their DNA, we’ve leapfrogged them in a manner akin to putting on a red cape and hurling ourselves over tall buildings. We can now easily know something that someone else has learned, and yet we have never done.

    Think about it.

    Here’s a question for you: Do you believe in telepathy?

    Mind reading? Think it’s a myth?

    No, we do it every day.

    Writing is the pure magic act of taking our actual thoughts and encoding them into symbols which, when someone sees them, the writer’s very thoughts are transcribed into the reader’s own mind.

    Think it’s not magic? Let’s take a closer look at the process.

    Consciousness itself is magical. No one truly understands it, but it happens to us constantly. A writer takes these ethereal, magical objects we call thoughts and assembles them into physical codes. Particles of light carry these codes into our eyes, where they are reassembled back into thoughts.

    Seriously, ponder this for a moment. It’s mind blowing when you really realize what’s going on between a writer and a reader.

    Now, if that wasn’t amazing enough, here’s an even deeper layer of magic. The thoughts you’re receiving via someone’s writing reach out across time itself.

    Long dead ghosts still talk to us through their writing.

    Your thoughts that you write can be experienced in the minds of people across vast expanses of time, hundreds or thousands of years later.

    Writing is so magical it can even cheat death.

    Now let’s talk about story. Story goes hand in hand with the ancient art of writing. It’s even older, going back to the origins of language itself.

    But, what is story?

    Storytelling is the art of making your thoughts interesting to other people.

    Basically, that’s what it is.

    It relates the storyteller’s experiences so others can experience them, and learn from them. Stories themselves, like ideas, are living things. They propagate from one person’s mind to another. They evolve. They split and become more than one story. They merge to become a different story. A story that goes from one mind to another is actually a child of the original, because the original still lives in the teller’s mind, and a slightly different version now lives in the listener. The listener then becomes the storyteller, and that story’s children are implanted into the minds of new listeners.

    Like seeds.

    Before written language stories were in constant flux, handed down from one generation to another through oral traditions. Each teller of a tale would either inadvertently, or perhaps purposely, alter the tale to fit the current circumstances. But then came written language, and the art of writing.

    This made it possible to make identical copies of a story, and being that early stories carried important information for survival, this was humanity’s secret weapon against Nature herself. It was the Konami code to beat the elements.

    And also, of course, it served as pure entertainment.

    But the craft of storytelling inherently carries a message, either overtly or subconsciously – whether the writer realizes it or not. And you, as a writer, are that which from the message springs.

    So, are you a writer? Do you tell people you’re a writer, or do you say you want to be a writer?

    Here, let me tell you something: if you write things, you are a writer.

    Period. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

    As writers – all writers – we improve with practice. Practice is in the form of writing. The more you write, the better you get. If you enjoy the act of writing, then you’ve got it made. Just keep doing what you enjoy, and learn as you go.

    You don’t need a certificate saying you’re a writer. You don’t need a license. You don’t even need other people’s approval. All you need to do is write, keep writing, and never stop writing.

    That makes you a writer.

    As a writer, it’s a good idea to practice all sorts of different techniques so that you learn them, and then later make up your own. But then again, writing and storytelling are not like mathematics. There is no one true answer. Two plus two in math always equals four, but in storytelling two plus two can equal five*, just like one plus one can equal eleven.

    Ultimately as a writer, you will find your own way.

    Just keep writing.

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    *bonus points if you get that reference

  • Today I’m celebrating my 30th anniversary of becoming a professional writer. On this date back in 1992 I sold A science-fiction short story 12 paid professional magazine. What an awesome feeling that was.

    https://www.groovymojo.com/p/30-years-ago-i-received-this-message

  • My New Dedicated Fiction Writing Nook

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    Even before the pandemic I had a home office, primarily for my writing, podcasting, and video editing. I also occasionally worked from home, but that was on a whim, because I was blessed with that choice.

    Then the pandemic struck and working from home became the norm. As time passed this created an unforeseen problem: I now associate my personal home office with my day job, and after the work day is over I don’t want to be anywhere near it.

    This is a problem because this is where I would write my fiction, which is my catharsis. So my fiction writing started happening away from home, mainly in my local pub.

    Spending a lot of time at a local pub added up to its own set of problems.

    • It gets expensive.
    • Beer caused me to gain weight.
    • Increased exposure to the pandemic germs.

    So I stopped going to the pub, which is sad because I love it. Still, I don’t like the excess 30 pounds and the drain on my wallet.

    Because I was no longer going to this home away from home, and I was avoiding the home office, I needed a new place to write fiction. So I thought, well, there is space in the basement.

    The previous owners of my shabby but comfortable little house had bought the place to flip it, but ended up not being able to do so, and the result was a not-quite-completed renovation. It appeared they were aiming to convert the basement to a bedroom, and there is an unfinished area that was probably meant to be a closet.

    My old gaming desk and a set of wire shelves fit in there perfectly. I put in a cheap old lamp from Target, a HomePod for music, a heater (because it gets chilly), and bought a cat-proof wooden chair off Amazon – and the whole thing came together.

    Lo and behold, I sat down in it and wrote a good 4000 words last night, the first solid fiction writing session in months.

    Success! A new novel is on its way.

    Fingers crossed.

  • THIS IS AN OPEN LETTER TO SCIENCE FICTION WRITERS, PARTICULARLY SPACE OPERA WRITERS, AND ALSO PARTICULARLY TO NEW WRITERS

    You really need to get this hierarchy straight:

    For the most part, planets revolve around a sun. This is called a Star System.

    Stars (with their collective planets) are generally found in big collections called a Galaxy.

    Galaxies all exist in a Universe.

    YOU REALLY NEED TO KEEP THESE TERMS STRAIGHT.

    To simplify it, think of it this way: If a planet was a house, then the Star System is a street of houses, and a Galaxy is a very large city. A Universe is the entire continent.

    Also, a note about distances:

    Planets inside a Star System can be very far away from each other, but they’re still within the gravity well of a star.

    Stars are usually very, very far away from each other, so far away that it takes their light years — sometimes hundreds or thousands of years — to reach each other. That’s why we use the term lightyears as a unit of measure.

    A lightyear is 5,878,499,801,210 miles.
    – Carl Sagan

    That is also why we generally use the science fiction term “hyperspace” to cheat and jump from one star system to another, and to bypass the reality of a thing called “time dilation” which would make plotting any kind of fictional story a real challenge.

    GALAXIES ARE VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY FAR AWAY FROM EACH OTHER. It takes light hundreds-of-thousands, or millions, or even billions of years to reach each other. Even using “hyperspace” you need to stress how in the heck you can go that far, even if it’s a simple statement that the technology pokes a hole in space to enable instant travel across ANY DISTANCE. If you establish that up front, you might get away with it, but … and this is a big point:

    You must respect the vast distances between all these celestial objects, and have a grip on what they all are. Bonus points if you have a good knowledge of what a black hole is, and a quasar, and other exotic and strange things such as a neutron star.

    Example: You will never be able to look up into the sky and see something happening at that very moment to a star. If a sun is destroyed by a “Star Killer,” you won’t see it happen from a neighboring star system for many years.

    Major goof made in a recent Star Wars movie

    You should also know that there are many different types of stars, ranging from giants to dwarfs, and various colors, and each color means something — and is an indicator of how much heat and radiation that they spew forth.

    But above all, do not get star systems and galaxies confused.

    If you do, your readers will laugh at you.

  • While I have used a type of virtual reality for years now, it’s always been on a screen in front of me. Things like Google Earth, Google Street View, and apps like Second Life have been familiar and useful to me when I want to get a unique feel for a place that I cannot actually visit in person.

    Then, one day last year, my good friend and podcasting partner Joe started telling me about how much fun he and his wife have been having with their Oculus Quests, and that no, you don’t have to hook it to a $2500 gaming PC. It’s a self-contained $300 piece of tech.

    Go on, I said. I’m listening.

    The latest one, he told me — the Quest 2 — has even higher specs for an even lower price. The way he was talking, it made me think that perhaps VR hardware stood on the brink of being mainstream. The real kicker, though, was not about gaming — he told me that if I got a set, we could hang out in a virtual theater and watch videos on a screen that rivals the best of the best physical movie screens. They’re huge, he told me. It’s like being there.

    In other words, Joe talked me into it.

    Now, I did already have a headset, but it was one of those ones where you put a smartphone into it, and I had used it maybe three times before putting it back in its box and sticking it on a shelf — where it still sits today. I’ll just say it was an underwhelming experience.

    But Joe emphatically told me the Quest 2 was different.

    Now those who know me will tell you that when I get into something I find really interesting, I don’t just stick my toe into it. I get on a high dive and do a full cannonball right into the deep end. Not only did I buy myself one, but after trying it out, I immediately bought one for everyone in the family.

    This, I thought, was real deal. A total game changer.

    The next big thing.

    Here’s the problem, though — it’s such a transformative experience that there’s no way to really relate it to someone who’s never done it. It’s kind of like losing your virginity. It’s crossing a major threashold into an entirely new level of experience.

    I’m not so sure about earlier VR headsets — the cell phone based one I have only slightly hinted at this — but the Oculus Quest 2 put me into a whole other world. Your mind almost instantly accepts this new space you’re in as real. It’s the closest thing to actual teleportation I have ever experienced, and I know it’s not just me — my family members said the same thing. The weirdest part is not when you “go in” to the experience, it’s when you take the headset off and look around and realize, wow, I’m back. That for some reason is even more jarring — going from this big, Disneylandesq space, or the huge movie theater, or from beside a lake with a fishing pole in your hand, to suddenly being in the dimly lit little cluttered room in your house that you suddenly realize needs a good dusting and probably vacuuming.

    One might at this point ask if we’re at the level of the movie Ready Player One.

    Emphatically NO. But you can see it on the horizon. It’s there. Whether or not we want to go there is another question, and that is a whole other discussion.

    When I told you I dive in like a cannonball, I’m not joking, because based on my Oculus Quest 2 experience I almost immediately did something I had already decided not to do — I bought the VR headset produced for my Playstation 4 Pro, because I wanted to see what it was like to actually immurse myself into the alien worlds I visit in the game No Man’s Sky.

    I’m glad I went with the Oculus first, because it is far superior to the Playstation headset, with one exception — the Playstation headset is more comfortable to wear. Despite it’s lower image quality, I must admit it still gives me a very good feeling of what it’s like to walk the surface of alien worlds, with huge moons in the skies, and wondrous archways of planetary rings — and sunsets with sometimes two, or even three suns.

    Which brings me to the actual subject of this artical. Research.

    I’m the type of writer who likes to write what I know. I don’t like to guess. But until now, I have never been able to say I know what it’s like to walk on an (admittedly fictional) alien world.

    I do now. And I’m using that experience in my writing.

    But, also, in the Oculus Quest, I have a program that pulls in Google Street View, and allows me to take meandering walks in frozen time, down just about any street in the world. And it’s not like viewing it on a screen, it’s like standing right there on that street. I feel what it’s like to be there.

    What an awesome tool!

    That’s right. Tool. Not toy. This is an incredibly useful tool for researching locations for fiction. That app in the Oculus store only cost $9.99, and it is going to save me literally thousands upon thousands of dollars in travel expense — and probably prevent me from contracting a certain troublesome virus.

    And you’d better believe I’m going to write all this off as an expense on my taxes.

    Now, it’s not going to completely replace travel. When the pandemic subsides, there are a few places I really need to visit. And I will. But until then, I’ll be donning my headset and teleporting to places — here on Earth, and elsewhere in the galaxy.

    If you ever needed an excuse to try one of these out, especially the stand-alone Oculus Quest 2, I say give it a go. You won’t really know what it’s like until you do it yourself.