Introducing your Protagonist

A post at Kill Zone Blog: How to properly introduce your protagonist

Good post.

Recommendations: clue the reader in about the protagonist’s name as soon as you can. Also gender. Also race, if that is a factor. A hint about physical appearance, but not too much. A hint about backstory, but not too much. I think that’s a summary of the recommendations at the post, which is worth reading through.

The post also points out, of course, that all the above is easy in third person, which is largely true; and considerably more difficult in first, which is definitely true.

I want to address a particular difficulty that applies to the Tuyo series and no doubt to some fraction of other secondary world fantasies:

Adding physical description when everyone in the entire story shares a specific physical trait, so there’s no reason for anyone to ever think about it.

In Tuyo, the Ugaro look like Inuit, only somewhat more so. That means they all have black, straight hair. The Lau look like Maasai, only somewhat more so. That means they all have tightly curled or kinky black hair. I’ve said that here. But it’s hard for me to say that in the actual books.

There is very seldom any reason for Ryo to think something like: “She has beautiful straight black hair.” All Ugaro have hair like that. It makes sense for Ryo to notice length of hair, the style in which it is worn — things like that. It doesn’t make sense for him to think about color or straightness when he’s looking at another Ugaro. There’s exactly one moment in Tarashana where he does think that, when he’s with Darra, very close to the end. That’s it. That only happens because he’s so physically aware of Darra, much more so or in a different way than he is of other Ugaro.

Besides that moment, I think the first, or nearly the first, time I ever have Ryo think directly that all Ugaro have black, straight hair is when he contrasts that with Inhejeriel. This is also one reason I gave Elaro, the poet from the east, a reddish tinge to his hair — this contrasts with the Ugaro of Ryo’s region, so that I can say that all the Ugaro in this region have pitch-black hair.

I realize any reader must have gained a general impression that the Ugaro are culturally uniform. This is not actually true. The reader simply has not had any way to see cultural variation among the Ugaro. *I* know about cultural variation that exists in this world, but Ryo does not, or has not had any reason to think about it — both, probably. Elaro opens a gateway to at least mention that kind of variation. That’s one useful role he plays for me as the author, though this isn’t going to be important in story terms (as far as I know).

Ditto for the novels told from the pov of a Lau. Neither Nikoles nor Esau ever thinks about hair color or type. All Lau have the same kind of hair — at least all we ever see. Style is noticeable. Color and type, not so much. That shuts the door on some kinds of easy physical description that I really can’t use, or at least not very easily. That’s why some Lau shave their beards in patterns or shave patterns into their hair. That gives me something else to describe.

Eventually, if we return to the starlit lands, that’ll be one useful function of the tattoo-like patterns many of the Tarashana wear. I’ll have to figure out what those actually mean, but, especially if we’re seeing the Tarashana through the eyes of an Ugaro protagonist — very likely — those patterns will be useful for for both the protagonist and the reader to tell different Tarashana people apart.

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Here comes November

We’re barely into October, but I’m seeing a flurry of posts about NaNoWriMo already.

Well, that’s sensible. If you want to write 50,000 words in November, it’s probably about time to consider what form those words might take. Here’s a relevant post from Jane Friedman’s blog: Why You Should Write a Novella for NaNoWriMo 2021

That is, of course, more realistic. A novel is more than 50,000 words. For me, generally 50,000 is not quite half a novel; or if we’re talking Tuyo-series novels, possibly barely over a quarter of a novel. But no matter what you’re writing, 50,000 is better conceptualized as a novella rather than a novel.

And that’s a better way to think of NaNoWriMo for two reasons, it seems to me:

a) You shouldn’t feel that the goal is to write a full novel, but

b) You may find it helpful to consider the goal is to finish something.

Doesn’t it feel different to think about finishing a long novella than it does to think about writing part of a novel? That’s probably not a universal perception, but I can’t be alone in thinking that 50,000 words feels different when you’re aiming to produce a finished product than when it’s a fraction of a project.

Also, you might have time to both write and (roughly) polish a novella. Let me see, okay, 50,000 words would be 1667 words per day, which is to say, about five pages. A little more, probably. That is a doable number of words — I mean, not if you have two-year-old triplets, probably.

Novellas are also simpler to hold in your head, as a rule. One main plotline will do. Fewer characters to carry that plot. It’s interesting, because the linked post also declares that novellas tend to take place in one basic setting, cutting down on the amount of setting you need to write, but I don’t think that’s my perception. I’m thinking of the Murderbot novellas and the Penric novellas by LMB, and those aren’t at all fixed in one place.

Here’s the ending of the linked post:

Planning is key … I also recommend identifying a touchstone, a novella that’s exactly the sort of book you want to write—but different. A touchstone can keep you inspired even as it offers you the answers to so many questions about how to begin and end, how to develop scenes, and so forth. Your best teachers are always your favorite writers.

That does seem helpful. Going back to one specific work to see how the author handled things — compressing time; stepping across a long journey in two paragraphs; building backstory in a limited number of words; whatever — I think that is probably a sound idea.

I’ve never participated in NaNoWriMo. As a rule, in the fall I’m taking a break from the various intensive writing projects of summer, plus gearing up for whatever project I have in mind for December. I don’t expect to participate this year either — though I won’t be taking a break. With any luck, I should be finishing this current Black Dog story Really Soon Now. Then I’ll need to write at least one more story in order to set up what I want to do in Silver Circle next year. I hope that by the end of November, not only is that finished, but all the stories will be revised and I’ll be asking for people to proofread the collection. So that is a project to finish, but not exactly a 50,000-words-in-a-month project.

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Best advice I’ve seen on Quora today

From Eric Lowe:

If an untrained person needed to be in a 1 on 1 sword fight, what would you tell them to do?

Like, they’re about to fight right now? I’d tell them to stab the other guy like a homicide sewing machine. That is their one job. All stabs, all the time.

I do like simple, clear advice that may someday come in useful for some unfortunate character who finds himself or herself in a difficult position.

Eric Lowe often provides useful, well-written, fun answers on Quora. I’ve got his book, which I’m reading now, in between reading other things.

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Archon Panels 2020

All the panels went well, basically. Small audiences for some of them, but of course Archon was (very) small this year compared to normal years.

It turns out that if I’m on a lot of panels myself, I have less time to go to other panels. Somehow I hadn’t thought of this obvious downside to saying sure, put me on lots of panels. I did enjoy every single panel that I was on, but I missed sitting in on a good handful I might have enjoyed, plus I barely bumped into people I’d have liked a chance to chat with.

Typical exchange all weekend: “Hi, nice to see you, I’ve got a panel starting in ten minutes!” “Me too, bye!”

Still, I had a good time. I had a nice chat with the guest of honor, Alma Katsu, a really interesting person who worked in Intelligence before retiring to write novels. That sounds exactly like the fictional backstory for the protagonist of a thriller, but there she was. She tends to write novels, such as The Hunger, that fall into a genre I guess is best called Historical Horror. That one is the Donner Party, except haunted by supernatural evil. She’s got another that’s the Titanic rewritten as psychological horror. Things like that. So … not sure I’ll ever pick up one of those. She has also written a spy novel — you’d think she might have started with that, given her background, but no — anyway, who knows, I might try that one.

Oh, by the way, Alma Katsu and her husband own a couple of Silken Windhounds! A totally delightful breed. The breed club is fairly serious about getting their breed established and recognized and they have some people who know what they’re doing. This is the single newly created breed I most want to succeed. Anyway, we obviously showed each other pictures of our dogs and exclaimed over their beauty and she told me about her previous dogs and, as I said, we had a very nice conversation. (We didn’t talk ONLY about dogs, but no, we didn’t talk at all about books or writing.)

Now, panels:

Most disappointing: Since all of you helped me out with ideas for the Space Cops panel, I’m sorry to have to tell you that one was canceled. However, I’m currently reading Great North Road by Peter Hamilton. I like it a lot and it is the perfect book to read for a panel of this kind, so if the topic comes up again, I’ll be prepared. Before you all dash off and buy it, I’ll add: I’m only 9% of the way in, so “like it a lot” is not a conclusion, just a for-now statement. About 8% of the way in, he suddenly switched pov characters, so I’m a little wary of whether I’ll wind up okay with that or not.

I’ve never read anything else by Hamilton, I think. Good writing, but I have no idea whether he tends to write tragedies, for example.

Most popular: The “How to commit the perfect murder” panel, by a lot.

This was a fun panel, and I guess everyone thought it would be, because quite a few people came. Lively discussion ensued.

Obviously — at least, it seems obvious to me — panels on SF murder mysteries and fantasy murder mysteries would both be good, BUT, probably not quite the draw of just straight up “How would you commit murder? What’s the best way to commit murder?” That was just very (alarmingly?) engaging as a topic.

Great suggestion from the audience: a SFF-themed short murder mystery dinner theater sort of thing. Not with the actual dinner, although quite possibly scheduling it during lunchtime would work. Do it sort of like a live-action role playing game and sort of like mystery dinner theater. Wouldn’t that be fun? Pretty much everyone at the panel agreed it would be fun.

As far as the rest of the convention went, I did make a chance to chat with one or two people I know, and overall the convention was a good experience despite the masks and the crowded schedules.

I also stayed up there Friday night, which gave me a chance to get up at the normal time for me (four in the morning; I know, all right?), and work on the current Black Dog story until it was time for my first Saturday panel. That was nice. Of course I didn’t get the story finished — I mean, I intended to try, and I hoped I might finish it, but no. I seem unable to write the last, say, five pages or so. I keep reworking earlier bits. Well, this week surely I will finish the draft of this story.

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Check this out

As you all know, I loved Victoria Goddard’s The Hands of the Emperor. I didn’t really get into the stories from Antorin’s point of view. Turns out that las month, Goddard released a set of linked stories that splits the difference.

Petty Treasons by [Victoria Goddard]

This is from Antorin’s pov, but involves Cliopher’s early days with the Emperor.

Several points worth mentioning:

a) This is one of the few works in second person — sort of in second person — that works for me. This is an interesting choice, obviously, and a risky choice. Goddard is using this technique of nearly-second-person to show Antorin’s — Fitzroy’s — anyway, the pov character’s — alienation from the role of Emperor and god-on-earth and so on.

b) EVEN HERE, Goddard does not actually show us the joke that Cliopher traded back and forth with the emperor that was so important to that initial encounter. I think this is cheating! I’m really curious what that joke was! Surely it would be possible to call up a friend with a knack for one-liners and jokes and so on and toss ideas back and forth and come up with something good.

Oh, well, I guess we will never know. Regardless, it’s an enjoyable set of stories. I still would like a sequel from Cliopher’s pov, but this was a pleasure to read in the meantime.

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Going wide


Now that the Death’s Lady trilogy is

(a) out of KU, alas!


(b) available in BVC

I’m going as wide as I can with these books.

That means I just put them into Draft to Digital and hit “publish.” After Draft to Digital grinds through its process, these books ought to become available at Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and a zillion other sites.

Draft to Digital takes a cut for doing all the conversions to the different platforms. They SO deserve whatever they skim off the top. Can you even imagine doing two dozen conversions to make an ebook work on every possible platform? No. Or at least, I can’t.

In addition, I’m bringing out the Death’s Lady trilogy in an omnibus edition, which should be available shortly:

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An Interview

Here’s an interview I did for Book View Cafe.

Among other things, Kat asked something no one ever asks — for details about what I was actually supposed to be working on in grad school when I started writing fiction.

There’s a link to the paper that came out of my master’s thesis. It is not, I warn you, an example of scintillating prose. It is, however, a decent example of non-scintillating academic prose.

If anyone actually clicks through all the way and wonders, the other author was my graduate advisor. All the writing is mine. All the guidance through the statistics was his. How well I remember the moment when he asked, “So, have you checked the residuals? How does that look?”

I also remember my answer clearly. I said, “Not yet, Jeff, but I’ll get on that soon.” Translation — Um, what are residuals again? I had to go look that up and then figure out how to calculate residual variation and then interpret the results.

I don’t miss those days at all, I must say. I still write (casual, rough, just good enough for bureaucratic purposes) analyses of tutoring outcomes for my job. That’s fine, but yeah, it was very plain at the time that I was never, ever going to like doing research. Fiction, as tough as it can be at times, is much better. Much.

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Bureaucracy is the Worst

No, not that kind of bureaucracy. Or that too, sure, but at the moment, I mean the word “bureaucracy.”

Here’s a post at Kill Zone Blog: Glitches Happen

I’m forever typing thing instead of think. And I’m constantly leaving out question marks.

Then, there are the words you can’t remember to spell—and even worse when you’re so far off the Spell Checker has no suggestions. For me, it’s bureaucrat and all its variations.

I laughed. I can never get “bureaucrat” or its variations right the first time. I have to poke at it till I either get it right or get it close enough that spellcheck figures out what I mean and fixes it for me.

“Lieutenant” used to be just as bad, and still is if I think about it while I type it, as I just did. But I’ve typed that one so often that usually my fingers can get it right without my brain being involved.

I never, or hardly ever, leave out question marks. That one seems odd. But I can’t type “an” without sticking a “d” on the end. I’m continually removing the extra “d.” The same with “ever.” I can’t type it without putting a “y” on the end.

It’s not so much that I type “think” instead of “thing,” but somehow I’m always hitting the “k” at random moments when I reach for any letter over on that side of the keyboard, so extraneous “ks” appear everywhere. That doesn’t happen with any other letter. Just “k.”

And, as I’ve definitely mentioned before, if I’m tired (and, it seems to me, increasingly when I’m not tired), I often type homonyms. I can’t even tell you how often my fingers type “right” instead of “write” and vice versa. It seems to happen a LOT. Like “an(d)”, I generally notice this particular error at once. I don’t think it ever makes it to the draft any beta reader ever sees.

Near-homonyms are just as common, and they don’t have to be all that near, either. Five minutes ago, I typed “time” instead of “type” three paragraphs up in this very post, and only noticed when proofreading the post before hitting publish. Don’t ask me. Four letters, starts with a “t,” has an “i” sound, apparently those characteristics were enough for my fingers to produce the wrong word.

That’s why I TRY to take the time to proofread every post and every Quora answer and every tweet and so on, every single time. I know sometimes typos slip through. But I bet I get 49 out of 50, even in social media, where I don’t care that much.

I sure do wish the back of my brain had more sense about homonyms, though.

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The SI unit for cuteness

Here we go, a truly *important* topic, from Ben Orlin at Math With Bad Drawings:

Ben declares that the smaller the unit, the cuter the critter:

If you skipped past the above picture, go back and make sure you read the example for something that is one picoButton of cute. And click through; there are also examples for non-cute at the link.

Since Ben failed to provide an example for the femtoButton, I’ll step up:

Dora, Anara Adornment RN RA CRN CRA CGC, fourteen years ago.

I just this morning purchased steps so Dora will have an easier time getting on the couch. (That means I’ll have steps to the windowsill, the bed, the top of the crate where a popular dog bed is available, AND the couch).

Dora’s still cute, but not in the same way.

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A New Step Into Self-Publishing

New for me, I mean.

I’ve joined Book View Café, and over the next year or so, I’ll be bringing some of my books out through BVC, starting with the Death’s Lady trilogy.

I’ll bring out the Black Dog books over at BVC too, and most likely everything else, EXCEPT maybe not the Tuyo series.

In order to bring out books through anyone but Amazon, the title has to be withdrawn from Kindle Unlimited. That’s fine for readers who don’t particularly care for Amazon. But at the moment, KU is bringing in a third to half my royalties — and Tuyo and Tarashana between them get as many pages read as everything else put together. So I’m reluctant to pull those books out of KU and will drag my feet for a good while before doing so.

Things I’ve learned: a lot about formatting ebooks. I thought I knew everything about using Word. Turns out I didn’t know anything at all about using Styles to format a document. Now I know a lot more about that.

I’ve also copy-edited a few books for other people, which in one case means I’m planning to point you to the book once it’s out because it’s an interesting book and I loved a lot about it.

I expect I’ll be doing an occasional guest post over at BVC too.

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