Sunday, November 28, 2010

Fun with Holidays

There is very little about writing fiction that I do not find 'fun'. I like using my imagination, and fiction lets you do that a lot. One thing that I have to think about when I'm writing science fiction is to not forget the holidays. (Holidays come up in other types of fiction, too, and must be thought out carefully.) Just for an instance, suppose I am writing about a new colony on an undeveloped planet. The colonists have some supplies and equipment, but still must depend only on what they can do themselves in order for the group to survive. To me, it makes sense that they would find some reasons to take a day off, a chance to play and celebrate whatever progress they've made. A day to remember why they are there. And some of those festival days would continue, even after the colony and culture has matured and the 'need' for such opportunities to forget their worries has waned. What would those early holidays celebrate? What would they be like a few generations later, when the culture has matured?

Since I've just cooked and eaten our traditional Thanksgiving dinner (and am in no hurry to clean up the dishes), I'll examine that type of holiday today.

Long ago, before the pilgrims came to North America, it was pretty traditional in Europe to feast and 'party hearty' in the autumn and early winter. The easiest way to store an abundant crop was to fatten up the people with most of it. Otherwise, fruits, vegetables and grains might rot and be of no use to anyone, and people would be very hungry in deed by the time any springtime foods became available. To my thinking, Americans still tend to do that, and I have a tendency to have my Colony X do the same. Maybe they don't need to store their crops as body fat, but I think it makes sense for a group that depends on agriculture to celebrate an abundant crop by having a party. So yes, my Colony X would have a Thanksgiving-type holiday. And it would probably continue even after most of the population is no longer involved in growing food, because by then, it would be part of the colony's tradition. Would they have pumpkin pie? Maybe not pumpkin, but they would have something made from local foods.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Where to Break?

Not long ago, a question was posed in one of my writing groups. A member had finished her novel and was ready to send out queries, and wondered how to determine where to break for chapters.

Huh? I was flabbergasted. The idea of one giant document that contained an entire novel / 300+ pages / 100,000+ words – just made my spine crawl with fear.

Of course, every writer is different, but I tend to write my novels AS chapters. Usually a chapter is a day, or if the day is particularly busy, I might split the day into two chapters in an effort to keep them somewhat the same length. But as the others in the group discussed chapters, I was reminded that the end of a chapter is actually supposed to be a mini-cliff hanger, something to spur the reader to continue reading.

Well, there goes my 'a day is a chapter' idea. And in truth, it wasn't a very good way to keep the chapters more or less the same length, either. Some were barely 2000 words, others 6000 or 7000. And I thought I had a book ready to be sent out for consideration!

I've been pondering how to solve this problem. Do I really have to go through another re-write and find a mini-cliff hanger for the end of each chapter? Can you imagine how poorly my protagonists would sleep if, at the end of each day, some impending doom loomed on the horizon? I wondered if there was an easier solution, both for me and for my characters.

Maybe I could just decide, "A chapter is 5000 words." Then find the end of a paragraph that was closest to that number, and declare the chapter ends at the end of the paragraph. Not exactly a moment of suspense, but people would need to continue reading to try to find a 'natural break' where they could turn out the light and go to sleep. Would that be too gimmicky? Too irritating?

Or another idea would be to eliminate the 'chapters'. It is fiction, after all. The idea is, if Tuesday ends in the middle of page 47, the next day (not necessarily Wednesday) would start in the middle of page 47. My reasoning is that starting a new day on a new page might make it too easy to turn off the light and put the book down. If the words just continued to flow, would the average reader just continue to read?

Any ideas or comments on this?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

When is Enough Enough?

When I first started writing, I was sure my first draft was my final draft; I didn't need to do any re-writing. A lot of 'writers' still believe that their first efforts are totally perfect and cannot be made any better. I know a few authors for whom this is pretty much true, but they actually do their re-writing in their head, where they ponder every possibility, every word choice before they commit any words to paper. The vast majority of authors still have a lot of work to do, even after they've written their first draft.

Personally, I know that after I've written my outline (in the case of a novel), I'll have a rough draft, and then three more drafts where I concentrate on one specific aspect of my writing, before I do what I think will be my final polish. Sometimes I'm wrong, and I'll wind up going through a few more drafts before I try another 'final polish'.

On the other end of the spectrum are those 'writers' who can't stop re-writing. And since they're never done, their work never gets submitted anywhere. They're looking for perfection.

I don't expect perfection. I'm not perfect, so how can I produce perfection? I look to write a good story, one that might move the reader, one that certainly doesn't leave them confused because the sentences are poorly constructed. Usually, after my three re-writes, my final polish is looking for typos, punctuation and an occasional phrase that could be tightened. Most of the time, that's enough for me.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Goldilocks Planet 2

Okay, I've been thinking about that 'Goldilocks' Planet they found recently. Haven't had time to consult with any physicist yet, but sometimes you can get quite a long way with just some common sense and imagination. Let's ignore the crushing gravity for now, and think about where we might place our colony.

With a planetary day and a planetary year virtually the same length, one side of the planet perpetually faces the sun. That would get hot, I'm guessing. And the opposite side would be far too cold. Of course it's possible that either side could be in the nominal temperature range, depending on exactly how far from its star the planet is located. But first thought about this says the 'twilight zone' is the place for any colonies. It could be a windy place, as the heat of the sun side blew over to be cooled on the night side, but it would be the place of temperate temperatures.

Okay, we're also going to ignore (for now) the psychological problems that might arise from living with perpetual sunrise or sunset.

So, we've got this strip of twilight, and this is where we're going to live. But I'm not sure the entire twilight zone would be comfortable. Those areas that tend to be sparsely populated on Earth – near the poles – could be too cold. The equator area might be too hot until you got well away from the daylight side. Therefore, the section that we might reasonably populate might look more like a crescent (one on each side of the planet).

Of course, if the entire twilight area is ocean, then the colony will have to float.

The article I read said one side faced the sun virtually perpetually. Which brings up the possibility that the twilight zone might actually migrate very slowly around this planet. Every century or so, people might have to abandon sections of the city that have strayed into the uninhabitable sections, and build new sections in areas that had recently become habitable. And every few millenia or so, sections of the formerly inhabited would start to appear in the opposite twilight zone, to either be razed and rebuilt, or simply used again.

So many ideas to explore when you let your imagination roam free.