September 25, 2004

Baen's Bar and the Big Stick of Author Anti-Correction

I want to invite everyone to visit the news forum hosted by Baen, fondly known as Baen’s Bar.

My section is called Tinker’s Dam. Come in, hang out, read, and post! I post snippets of my work in progress, so you’ll be see stuff years before it sees print.

Two warnings:

1. What I snippet often has TONS of spoilers, not only for books in the stores that you might not have read but also for the novel that I’m currently working on. I try to keep the biggest surprises of the current project under cover, but sometimes it leaks out.

2. I do not NOT NOT want any public posts on what I just threw up is wrong in any way. And I publicly smack down anyone that points out errors in my snippet. Hey, if you intimately know that the DEA carries one type of gun and I’ve used the wrong one, feel free to email me privately. I don’t want copyediting, not in public or private. What I just posted is so fresh off the griddle that its still splattering grease everywhere. What you will buy in the bookstore will be polished, copyedited and then proofread by a small army of people.

But the main reason I ask for no nitpicking is that ALL OF IT MIGHT CHANGE!!

Yes, indeed, what you’re seeing might not make the final book!

Take for instance the most recent smack down. I posted a scene where Tinker is in mad scientist mode on the space ship. I had written the scene the day before. On one wall, she had scribbled equations and when another character asked about them, she had technobabbled about vectors, velocity, and whatnot at him.

And someone jumped up and down and cried “That’s not right” and I hit him.

And here’s why.

When I first conceived of “Tinker rescues the colonist” (see I told you there would be spoilers) I originally planned that the colonist had all landed on the world of the dragons and were scratching out a meager life just outside of Turtle Creek, waiting for rescue. I decided I hated that idea for all sorts of reasons. So I decided that they were all still in space and came up with logical reason that they’re still in space.

After ages of trying to figure out how Tinker GOT into space, I then started to wrestle on how she gets back home. My first plan involved her dragging her oni gate into space, pushing space shuttles through it and then having them land at Pittsburgh International Airport. I decided sucked. I then decided that she painted the “jump” circuit onto the shuttle itself and replaced the engines with hoverbike motors so that they could “hover” down. That sucked. I then decided that she would fling the colonists into the void and they bob up out of Turtle Creek like so many fishing floats. That sucked.

Next she popped the entire ship back and it plowed through Turtle Creek like a run away freight train and was immediately surrounded by annoyed elves. It was at this point that I posted the mad scientist snippet.

Now if I had decided to keep that scenario, I would have emailed it to my friend who has a Ph.D. in astrophysics and teaches at the University of Pittsburgh and ask, “What is wrong with this and how can I fix it.” (Actually I still will, but what she will see is something totally different because I changed it again.)

But I decided that idea sucked too.

Mostly because I wanted now was that they were immediately surrounded by annoyed oni. Oops, things had changed while Tinker was gone. I spent a week playing with that when I decided, no, I hated that too.

Currently – and I am stressing currently here – the ship no longer is going to freight train through Turtle Creek. It now is going to warp in and fuse half into the bedrock of Turtle Creek. Tinker instantly creates the tallest structure of Pittsburgh, the Tengu Aerie.

I think that would be cool.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know all about the structural design of skyscrapers are delicate things and spaceships shouldn’t be able to become impromptu skyscrapers…

But it would be cool.

But I might change my mind on this…

Posted by wen at 09:40 AM

September 21, 2004

Dialog -- Capturing voices for characters

I got a question posed to me:

Hi Wen.

You keep mentioning that you answer questions on writing, I thought I'd
ask one here.

How do you manage to write different "voices"? Reading your dialogs, I
can usually tell what Ukiah said as compared to what Rennie or Max said
(even without checking who said it). And you do it without resorting to
accents (except as a flavoring).

When I tried writing dialogs, people told me that the character which
was my avatar had really vibrant representative dialog. The other
characters, and I admit it, were flat, and sounded a bit like me trying
to portray someone else.

So, the question is, how do you write different people that sound so
different? Any general tips for newbies?

(name withheld by request)

Good question, one that is hard to answer -- mostly because I'm never sure if I succeed in doing it myself.

People have natural vocabularies, point of views, and speech rhythms. For example, one person might talk all in small words in small sentences.

"I work at Borders. Weekends. Nights."

Or they might ramble.

"I work at Borders because I just love books and they give you an employee discount. How cool is that? Of course that means all my paychecks ends up back in their pocket, but that happens anyhow, so I might as well get more books out the deal. Anyway, I like to work nights -- I'm a nightowl kind of person."

The first person might be shy and uncomfortable about talking about themselves, or not trusting of the person that they're talking to. The second person is willing to say anything to anyone.

Rennie's point of view isn't the same as Max's, so how he'll approach any subject is going to be different. And of course his vocabulary is going to be peppered with "old" words.

"Work at a bookstore? I'm not into booklearning, cub."

Max's wealth and business experience makes it so while he's a father-figure and slightly suspicious of the world like Rennie's, he sees it in a different manner than Rennie.

"Whoever came up with the bookstore cafe marketing plan was a genius. People are going to browse, so why not encourage them to cough up money for overpriced coffees while they do it? Two addictions at once."

It's actually a little hard for me switch from Ukiah's books to Tinker. Ukiah is laid back, watching, flooding his senses with input, unworldly but wise. He doesn't use a lot of slang, and his focus in life in people.

"I like bookstores. They're filled with happy people. My moms used to take us to the Barnes and Noble store out in Cranberry. We'd nestle down into stuffed chairs, drink hot cocoa, and be together in contented silence."

But Tinker is mouthy, naive but worldly. She tends to be more self-centered.

"I don't know if I love or hate this whole coffee shop thing. I mean, yeah, the food is to-die-for yummy, and it's a cool way to scan through the physics books -- find out if they actually say anything I don't already know -- but I always have to take the back copy because the front copy been so mauled, it's gross. I subscribe to all the real science magazines, but I like to skim through the pop tech magazines like Wired, just to see what might be leaking into technology from a weird angle."

Practice is the way to learn how to do dialogue. It is hard to approach every line of dialogue as if there is a POV shift and yet not actually step out of POV. I at first had to actually sit down and say "this person will talk in short sentences, this person will ramble, this person will use sentences that will be extroverted, this person will use self-centered sentences." I would go through and check for things like: this person is self-centered, so they won't say "This is annoying" but "I'm extremely pissed at the moment."

Slowly it becomes more ingrained so I don't have to think as much about it. I actually have to sit and think about why Rennie sounds different from Max, but after a while, I can pinpoint what I've put into them to make them different. Little character things, like the fact that Max rarely teases Ukiah, while Rennie will do little digs (and he really harasses Atticus to no end.) That Max mostly calls Ukiah "kid" unless he's very stressed out and concerned about Ukiah, and then he becomes "son." That Rennie never calls Ukiah anything but "cub." Max is 20th century, high tech, money. Rennie is 19th century, low tech, wolf.

Of course, you can't always get every line of dialogue to be flavored. Nor should you. My first attempt at a novel, I had one character that only mumbled odd long strings of dialogue, and then I made him a main character. Talk about unreadable! Just be aware that even short exchanges be radically changed by word choice.

"Stop it."
"Oh, give me a break."
"Could you please not do that?"
"Do you want hit?"
"Try that again, and I'll tear your throat out."
Heavy sigh, look away, without a comment.

Posted by wen at 05:05 PM