Writing Advice #13

Writing Advice

DO THE WORK: RESEARCH!

In my humble opinion, it is the WORST IDEA EVER to make up something, especially for science fiction or fantasy and not put work into researching your subject.

Example:

I have a character that became a vampire in 6th century Britain. As I was working on his backstory a spontaneous cemetery scene popped into my head. I wrote it and then re-read it and something felt off.

Specifically, the setting. I got the clothes and the political climate right–because I researched them–but I had no idea what a 6th century Cornwall/Devon-ish cemetery looked like. I knew nothing about the burial customs of Anglo-Saxon England.

I do now.

Because I researched it. Cremation was a thing. Pretty cool stuff. Here’s a link. And then I had to go a step further and research battlefield burial practices in Anglo-Saxon England. Here’s another link.

Now you might be thinking: but if I’m writing science fiction or fantasy isn’t everything already made up? Why does it matter?

Because if your details, timelines, or invented technologies don’t add up your writing isn’t going to be strong and you might face a lot of criticism once you put your book out into the world.

Another Example:

As I was summarizing the plot of a science fiction novel A writer acquaintance of mine once commented, “Laser fire won’t work, you can’t have lasers as weapons in space. Light doesn’t hurt things in space.”

And while I told her the word “laser” was just a place holder for the IDEA OF THE THING until I figured out what would work as a super spacey technologically advanced weapon system that NO ONE ELSE HAS DONE YET (haha yeah right), I really appreciate her comment because even though it means more work for me, it also means that when I get the work done and figure out what would work instead of a generic and inaccurate trope.

I’m still researching and working on that one, by the way.

Helpful Hint #1:

I will often use Wikipedia as a starting place for narrowing the specificity of my research but I DO NOT take everything on there as fact. Anyone can add things to a Wikipedia page, it might not all be true.

I like to use newspapers and academic sites (.edu) for sources because they usually have to fact check, have additional source material, and have to adhere to some standard of quality and credibility.

Academic and research papers from sites like JSTOR are good as well.

Helpful Hint #2:

When you’ve finally found your source you want to make sure the information is presented in an objective manner. If you found a nifty academic paper with a thesis statement, that’s cool, but you don’t want to waste your time reading someone’s 20 page treatise on their OPINION of the subject when you want facts.

Objectivity is key. Look for facts, not opinions.

Helpful Hint #3:

This may seem like a time waster but you’ll be better off in the long run. VERIFY YOUR INFORMATION by finding multiple sources that say the same thing. If more than one person repeats the same fact/date/whatever, it’s more likely to be true.

My teachers in college always told me to do this and me, being a terrible student, was all like, “I am not wasting my time like that!” And then I got an F on the paper because I’d used fraudulent sources. Because I didn’t check to see if my source material was actually right. I was so embarrassed. Don’t let that kind of thing happen to you.

So to sum up:

1. Research your subjects

2. Use credible sources

3. Get concrete facts

4. Check those facts across multiple sources

Fact checking is so important, not just in research for your work in progress, but in how you conduct yourself as a creative person, especially on social media. Make sure you have all your information before you post that tweet or that blog post.

Follow up question:

How does researching treat you? Do you love spending hours jumping down knowledge rabbit holes or is it a necessary evil?

I want to write this letter to someone in particular but I can’t reach them because of reasons.

Everyday Life

Dear B–

I once asked you to describe containment in the hopes that words would become a tangible net or spell and I would be safe forever.

Now, instead of a chrysalis I want:

Emptiness

Extreme space

I want open sky

I want rolling storm clouds and I want to feel the sting of every piece of hail as it strikes the ground (it’s still cold here, still winter–mostly).

But even though I have room to run now my brain is still caught in this weird mind snare that maybe was always there, I don’t know how long I’ve been walking around not noticing.

I’m having some problems and creative outlets help but I still have this awful hollow feeling in my chest and maybe if my body dissolved in the river or the obscenely wonderful streaky pink sunset I’d feel better.

So I want to know, now, even though I don’t feel very proper asking you (it’s not about protocol it’s that there’s so much more going on in the world and it’s President’s Day) but I’d love to know your feelings about the open sky and how you would illustrate the opposite of containment.

Call it freedom if you like

Call it emptiness

Call it a void

Call it silence

Call it the loudest noise in the world, a volcanic eruption

Call it whatever it is that you need to feel a lack of containment.

Sincerely yours,

Jessica

Note: This is an open letter. I’d love to hear/read anyone who wants to answer. Thanks.

Demon Moon is LIVE!

Fiction, NEWS

Demon Moon: a Slaughter Chronicles short story can be downloaded as a FREE ebook at these lovely locations

Books2Read (kobo, iBooks, nook, tolino, google play, and more)

Smashwords

Prolific Works (mobi file for Kindle)

Or, if you don’t have an e-reader you can read it here, under the cut. But if you get the ebook edition you will get a sneak peek of Havoc’s Moon, The Slaughter Chronicles Book One (still on schedule to come out October 2019 🙂 )

The year is 2003 and Caleb Grimmet, high school senior and football superstar, is going to make all his dreams come true. Or so he thinks. All he has to do is catch and  tame a demon.

When Caleb and his friends gather together to open up the abyss, they learn a painful lesson: dreams don’t always manifest the way you want them to. 

And the abyss, once looked into, does more than look back out at you.

This story contains strong language and descriptions of gore. Reader discretion is advised.

I love two dogs, even when they’re killing / a baby possum near the columbines, / shaking the varmint / until the death squeal chokes to a gargle,

A Commonplace Book

Alan Michael Parker, “When I Am a Hummingbird”

This stanza and the the last of this poem are why I write. Absolutely beautiful.

…and I will dive into the meat

of the possum

and beat there,

the mean, bloody thing alive again.

Body’s Worth

Poetry

A passenger throws a red scarf

out the window of a car.

Body falls. Skins

the road, rolls into the razor grass.

Salty nest off nerves lies

summer scorched,

licking the surface slick

as verb. Slick as motion.

In this moment body’s worth

can be measured by the grace

of decomposition but

no one mistakes knucklebones

for relics.

Daytime full moon.

In this moment

the eclipse breathes.

In the next moment body’s worth

can be measured by the ripple of

stones snagged in the blood pool.

A previous version of this poem appeared in The Reverie October 2015. I’ve revised it a little 🙂

We Hold All of Our Hurts Together

Poetry

a handfull of darkness

serpent’s reach

the stars my destination

driving blind

heavy time

the new moon’s arms

adulthood rites

city of illusions

time out of joint

a graveyard for lunatics

i will fear no evil

words are my matter

midnight robber

conspirator

a maze of death

beyond this horizon

the godmakers

the crack in space

the cat who walks through walls

dreams must explain themselves

voices from the street

merchanter’s luck

eye in the sky

something wicked this way comes

sister mine

the green brain

the dragon in the sea

survivor

farewell summer

fledgling

double star

whipping star

lilith’s brood

stranger in a strange land

wave without a shore

A found poem made up of titles by Nano Hopkinson, Octavia E. Butler, C.J. Cherryh, Frank Herbert, Alfred Bester, Ursula K. LeGuin, Ray Bradbury, Robert A. Heinlein, and Phillip K. Dick

Sketch by Mr. J