Fight scenes in fiction are often heavy dramas loaded with hefty dialogue and lots of circling. They are tense and gripping. They also seldom capture the feeling of a real fight.
Fights are quick and intimate. There is some preening that occurs, usually one or both parties (assuming two people) pumping themselves up: an attempt to build themselves up to the fight. This is because most people don’t want to get hurt, and in the back of their minds a fight holds the possibility they might. They have to convince themselves.
What fights are not are sex scenes. A fight is intimate but in that moment you are not counting sweat beads or noticing pressure points. You are swinging and kicking and hoping you get more damage in than they do. You’re not a ninja (probably), you’re a scared and angry human lashing out against what will eventually turn out to be a minor inconvenience in a long list of minor inconveniences.
I got in a fight in high school many eons ago. There have been more since, but this was my first. There are two versions of this fight: fiction and non-fiction. The fiction is that we fought for ten minutes and were cheered on by a crowd of hormonal teenagers, each voice frothing the row higher. What really happened was I talked a bunch of shit to convince myself to do the thing, swung my foot wildly at his head, and got kicked in the balls. It took less than a minute. I curled up on the ground holding my crotch and moaning, and he patted me on the back and became a good friend. Neither of us even remembered what the fight was about.
One fact I should point out: never once in any fight I’ve ever been in has time slowed. Time sped up. Every fight is a confusing mass of fists and feet and not knowing what is happening. I’ve left the scene of a fight wondering how many times I punched myself.
I would like to see more of the chaos and rapidity written into fictional conflicts. The mess and insecurity makes the fights more believable. A good fight scene is in the buildup and the wind down. The actual slap fest is boring and should only take a paragraph, two at the most.
None of this applies to epic battles. Those we want to last. Massive armies should have massive battles. Few things will kill a good fantasy war more easily than brevity. But with two people, my eyes will cross and I will set a book down if it stretches past a couple paragraphs.
I say this as a reader, but also as a reminder as a writer. Just as an overwrought sex scene can ruin an otherwise good story, so can a time-slowed-down-and-my-instincts-kicked-in slap-a-thon kill a perfectly good book. Keep it brief.
Time travel gets a lot of grief in fiction. Often I read stories where the “science” is overwrought or, worse, inconsistent. Stephen King once said a writer’s job is to tell the truth. I disagree. A writer’s job is to lie so convincingly, the truth becomes irrelevant. Any good liar will tell you that details ruin the lie but inconsistency murders it outright. Readers don’t want to think back to an earlier chapter where the science did one thing and now does another. If they question the truth, the story needs grief.
I have loved time travel stories since my first exposure to Doctor Who back in the 1980s. I stumbled across the show while staying up late and flipping channels on the tiny 12-inch cube that sat atop the antique (and non-working) Heathkit television my dad kept in the living room. PBS was showing “The Hand of Fear”, Sarah Jane’s last companion episode, and I tuned in about halfway through. I loved the bad puns and dry humor, but more than that I loved the absolute silliness of Tom Baker’s Doctor. I watched every episode the station aired from then on. It was (and still is) ridiculous, silly, and fun, but more than anything it was consistent.
[Side note: I’m absolutely in love with what Jodie Whittaker brings to the role. She makes an excellent Doctor and brings a much needed (and missed) light and silliness to the role.]
When I think of bad time travel stories, two awful ones come to mind: Time Changer, the story of an 1890s preacher who travels to the 21st century and is shocked, just shocked, that people get divorced and use “bad” language; and the cringe worthy Time Runner, the story of the universe’s worst time traveller (Sorry, Mr. Hamill, it’s horrid). The former is inconsistent (dude you traveled through TIME, and words and relationship issues are the problem? What about false prophets and televangelists that do nothing for those they preach to?) and the latter hoards bad plots like my dad hoarded non-working electronic devices (q.v. the Heathkit TV).
Some stories are terrible but fun (Time Rider, Time Cop 1) and others are fantastic (Time Bandits, Terminator). What makes these stories work better is consistency. I don’t care about the truth when I watch these because they do not call the truth into question. I never have to look back or say, “Wait, but you said/did X in that other scene!”
The bad news is, there will be more bad time travel stories written. It is inescapable. The good news is that every one of them teach us what not to do with our stories. That is why, as writers especially, we must read bad fiction. Make it through as much of a horrid story as you can. Learn what sucks and why. You don’t have to hit your thumb with a hammer to know it’s a bad idea. It may solidify the point, but so will watching someone else do it.
Antitopia will probably feature time travel though limited in scope. I think when we have a memory or imagine the future we are in that time, that moment, just not physically. And as magick and monsters play a role in Antitopia, one might affect a change in that mental state. Manipulating the past would be simpler, you change the collective memory. The future is tricky.
The things we do now can have a tremendous effect on the future. This is always hazy in fiction because there are infinite possible outcomes from a single moment. If I move my hand to the right while writing this, I might knock my daughter’s play-dough tools off the table. This might scare the cat, sending him tearing through the house. On his tear, he might claw his way through the living room right over the kiddo. The scars from that will leave her frightened of the cat, coloring her future interactions with all cats. I have given my child a phobia through a simple, accidental misstep. But what if I catch the tool, or don’t move my hand in the first place? Thus the future becomes a tricky adventure: even a simple step in a different direction can reshape the events you’re trying to effect.
[Note: I didn’t move my hand, the kid and the cat are okay.]
God(s) in Fiction
I am writing some strange things lately. Not that that is unusual in itself. The Antitopia Universe is a pretty odd place. After last week's post I got on a world-building kick and found a way to include some pretty odd critters in the evolution of conscious species. This whole mess got me thinking about god(s) in fiction. Not religion, necessarily, but the entities from which myths derive.
It could be argued, of course, that myths derive from human misinterpretation and ignorance, but we're in Fictionland, and that means anything is probable. Here's what probably happened in Antitopia. There are seven species of conscious beings (I've only defined three so far, but there's time) in the universe. Two are symbiotic in nature, those being my version of vampire and our good old human being. The other is Kardeshev V level crazy pants god things.
For those unfamiliar with the Kardeshev scale, it is a measure of civilization based on the ability to harness energy. Humans are around 0.73 on that scale with the potential to reach level I within 100 years or so. A level I civilization is capable of harnessing the full energy potential of it's home planet, and usually has to travel space due to demand outweighing energy supply. Level V civilizations have expanded to multiversal existence. Such beings would flit in and out of existence as we understand it without batting an eye.
These entities will likely play little part in the main stories of Antitopia. They will show up from time to time just to keep things weird, but they have no genuine interest in humanity. Woe betide us all should they ever gain an interest in us, because that kind of attention would be catastrophic!
This week's winning topic is brought to you by my friend John. And spite. He suggested some other topics that were more thoughtful, but this one is the one that got me thinking the most. I'm not very enthused by zombies, and never really have been. I may get kicked out of horror for this, but I think the zombie is the laziest monster in fiction. That said, I prefer to promote the things I love, so I will write about what I admire in zombies first.
They make a compelling bad guy. The perfect bad guy, in my opinion, is one which makes determining its motivation impossible. If you can't figure out what the baddie wants, they become difficult to defeat. Jason Voorhees was interesting and scary when he was a mask and a machete hacking up young lovers in the woods. Give him a morality and he becomes dull. Romero's zombies hungered for brains and while they were scary to my kid-mind, they grew tiresome when everyone and their mother started shoving out brain-eaters as their monster. More modern versions aim towards an unknown or undiscovered motive which makes them more interesting. The Walking Dead makes zombism a pandemic, and a disease's only known motive is to eat and reproduce. The zombies become a backdrop to the bigger enemy (humans are terrible) but make for a convincing menace.
And for me, that's it. Beyond being a wave of teeth and blood drops, zombies don't do anything. What we learn from zombie apocalypses is that human beings are awful and probably deserve their fate. As cynical as I may be, I still hold out hope for humans. I think with time we can move away from the rampant consumerism Romero's zombies represent and the mindless perpetual appetite of Kirkman's, and find ourselves an enemy worth fighting. Maybe we can have a lich represent corporatism...
Don't get me wrong, I will still sit down an watch a zombie flick and I'll probably enjoy it if it's a good story. But like Resident Evil 2 (Milla Jovavich era) I have no problem walking away when it loses me.
I do have a favorite zombie movie, though, and it may have tempered my view on all that have come since watching it: The Serpent and the Rainbow. While Wade Davis' methods and findings in his book may be suspicious, the movie made for some damned good story. I like the mythological and cultural zombie far more than what they've been turned into. The voudon zombi has the potential for redemption, where the pop zombie is generally cured with a shotgun. I think conflation of the two has left us with a terrible misunderstanding of a rich culture and a pretty lame monster to boot.
I guess the take away is that when you hammer people over the head with the same monster with little variety, they become bland. There is always potential, and more innovative writers show up every day, so who knows? Maybe the next round of zombie apocalyptics won't put me to sleep.
John makes amazing wood sculptures with stumps and a chainsaw and knows an awful lot about movies.
This week's winners (I picked two because I was sick most of the week and missed out on a bunch of writing time) are Tom and Brian. They proposed some pretty cool topics that gave me a lot to think about. I will back full force next week with some more of my own madness.
Hobos. In. SPAAAAACE!!
Hobos are a romantic topic. For most the concept sparks an image of a shabbily clothed train hopper with a banjo and a bindle stick boozing their way around the world on a freight train. For those who have traveled by less common means, it is a very different image. We wore the clothes we could afford or find, working when we could, and often for far less than minimum wage. Here on earth, hopping a ride and sleeping rough are fairly easy to do even with the current scrutiny on homelessness. When my friend Tom suggested “space hobos”, I knew I had a rough subject to cover.
First off, there is very little reason for a cargo container in space to have an oxygen rich atmosphere. This immediately removes one of the primary means of travel from our hobos and limits them to either sneaking on to human transport or finding work as part of a crew. Hobos would have to gain a lot more skills than the average person heading from the Martian ice mining colonies to the algae farms of Europa.
The next problem is space itself. There is an awful lot. On earth, when a freight car is “sided out” or parked, there are tracks the hobo can follow to civilization. If our hobos in space find a cargo transport with an atmosphere and get parked, they are stuck. Along this vein is also the time and energy required to cross the vast distances of space. Even at light speed we suspect the nearest earth-like planet to be ten years away or more. That’s one long ride for someone with minimal resources.
Our non-standard travelers would have a lot of obstacles to overcome that are easily overcome on earth, so I think it is a rich bed for storytelling. You can expect to see a few stories soon on the subject, but in the meantime, check out the musical creations of a real live hobo and dear friend, Tom Kerins (bandcamp page). Your contributions could very well go towards the first hobo in space!
My friend and fellow poet Brian (Katin Thehat) suggested the topic “vampires are really aliens.” This concept has been covered fantastically by several of my favorite sources. Vampirella, and all vampires in that universe, hail from the planet Drakulon. Doctor Who featured three distinct species of hemophagic aliens. Star Trek had salt vampires. And there is Colin Wilson’s The Space Vampires, later turned into the film Lifeforce.
I’ve always had a fascination with vampires. They are a cultural phenomenon that never quite gets staked through the heart despite the awkward attempts to gloss coat and satirize them. They are, and I think will remain, staples of horror. They represent what I consider the “perfect” baddie.
What makes the perfect baddie? Three things specifically define this for me: Unalterable motive; Overwhelming power; and Minimal emotion. Their motive is to eat, to feed, usually on blood. Take the blood away and they starve. That’s a good motive to keep eating. They are immortal, capable of withstanding nearly all forms of attack or injury. Besides that they have great physical strength and prowess, and abilities such as turning to vapor or animals make them an overwhelming force for most. And aside from the occasional bout of loneliness or boredom, they have no use for emotion.
I am not a big alien enthusiast. For me, the question of resources and time always makes me balk at the concept. Alien vampires give me some wonderful ideas that would allow me to suspend my disbelief enough to make something. If vampires are really aliens, then they likely have been sowing the seeds for human space travel since their arrival. It’s much easier to find resources if your food is piloting the ship.
Consider a generational ship: a spaceship large enough to house an increasing population for one or more generations and traverse a large distance. Humanity evolves to where it can make and pilot one to another earth-like planet thousands of light-years away. The vampires, who tag along for the ride, only need 192 genetic pairs to survive in order to rebuild their food source on the new planet. They can repeat this cycle until the heat death of the universe.
Will Antitopia have space vampires? Probably not. But I will definitely play with the idea. No harm ever came from writing more. *grin*
Brian has a musical project as well which you should definitely check out. It's called pIGE0Nh0LE and it is an excellent adventure in chaos!
CAST OF CHARACTERS:
Brian Dale (aka Katin Thehat): song-singer & word-bringer, psychopomp, psylosopher & backup metaphysics
Lane Wilder: classically trained master of sonic ambivalence, ear textures & instrumental adventures of all sorts
Between the Cracks (EP #2)
pige0nh0le (EP #1)
I have some sort of virus which has wiped me out for the past few days. As result I haven't been able to write very much. Once I am feeling better I will post this week's blog or make next week's a super special edition. Thank you all for stopping in!
Pictured: The Bluniverse with a splash of red.
The discussion of diversity in creative works is an important and evolving one. I have seen many strides taken in my 40-some odd years towards inclusivity. I have made many of those strides in my life and am always striving to be better.
I’m a white guy, so I exist in a position of privilege. Statistically, I have better odds of surviving an interaction with police than others might. My chances of landing a job are higher, and I would likely get paid more than another doing the same job. It is unlikely that someone would drag me behind an automobile for my choice in partners, or beat me to death because I represent a gender different from expectations. I understand this.
No human deserves violence for their existence alone. As yet, we have no evidence that humans choose existence. Rather, life thrusts it upon them at a very early age (ha!) and they have no option but to accept it. They don‘t deserve injury for this anymore than I deserve a crown for my pallor and genital configuration.
Diversity is not harmful to creative works. The more voices there are, the more variety there is, the less boring the world becomes. If everything in the universe was blue, for example, it would be a bland existence. But add a splash of red? Suddenly things get interesting. In our hypothetical bluniverse that spot of red stands out and screams, “I am here!”
A spot of red does not diminish the blueness. It draws away some attention, but blue is no less blue. In fact, it inspires a few blue bits to venture out and try being purple. Another blue spot tries being yellow. Soon we have a whole spectrum. It is a lot of hard work, but what a wondrous place our universe becomes!
The argument seems to be that if content was being created that was “good” then things would be different. However, great content is being made, and often with little to no support. When support is available (Jordan Peele’s latest efforts come to mind) incredible things happen. We get excellent stories, brilliant images, and amazing music. The whole of creation works harder to shine.
And that is where the problem rests. It isn’t a fear of color or creed, of gender or orientation, but of work. Lackluster only shines when nothing else is brighter. In a diverse field, only the great shines through. That is a good thing, because it means that we must work harder, practice our craft, and make things that people love if we want them seen.
So let us, instead of harping at diversity, get better at what we are doing. Write every day. Paint every day. Study, photograph, film, sculpt every single day. Be better. Help the bluniverse grow into a vast spectrum worthy of your shine.
Weekly Topic Contest Winner: Marc Alexander
My friend Marc posted this as a topic idea: “I can pass messages thru dreams to those who know to contact me, but I get my memory wiped regularly so I don’t remember what messages I transmit.”
Now this sounds like a fun story, so I won’t write it for him. I will touch on the rabbit hole it drew me down: Laser-guided amnesia.
The mind wipe or memory wipe is well covered on tvtropes.com so you can read about it in more depth there. To familiarize you with the concept, Jason Bourne and The Manchurian Candidate are both examples. A person has their memory removed yet keep their abilities. This may seem like movie magic, but it is how amnesia works to some extent. You lose your sense of person, but keep your muscle memory. It is a common plot device that can make for good storytelling.
Most often we see the subject of the wipe perform some immoral act that no “good” person would or could. Jason Bourne is a cold-blooded killing machine. The Chinese military conditioned Raymond Shaw to assassinate various political rivals of his handlers. They usually escape their circumstances and everything works out: the “good guys” win.
In Marc‘s scenario above, the means of wiping would have to be near instantaneous. They could use an implanted chip, a la Total Recall. If the memory erasure wasn‘t instant, they would remember the messages and the premise would fail.
We must also consider the most important question: Why? Why are they transmitting messages? This is an important plot point. When writing this story, the author would need to have that question answered to set it up correctly. The message transmission is important enough to need a memory wipe afterwards. This is doubtless an expensive thing, be it lasers or a memory chip. This could all make for a superb story. All that remains is for someone to write it.
So, to this week‘s winner, I say, “Sit down and write this story I would love to read!”
[ Marc is a writer of compelling and thoughtful comic reviews and recently posted his 150th review over at Bam! Smack! Pow! Check it out here: bamsmackpow.com/2019/02/18/criminal-no-2-review-comics-and-crime/ ]
Those who know me well are aware of my anxiety issues. I fret over social situations more than is reasonable, and always begin them looking for an exit. This can, I believe, be an impediment to writing for many who practice the craft. For me it can throw me out of my zone for several days at a time, particularly if large groups are involved.
This past weekend I went to an event put on by CHOA (Children's Healthcare of Atlanta) for children with congenital heart defects at the Georgia Aquarium. My youngest has a heart defect so we get to go as a family which we couldn't do otherwise (not at $8.95 for a sandwich). The down side is the massive crowd. Beyond the 400+ kids and family members there are the weekend visitors. My heart is racing even now simply thinking of it.
My nerves started their rattling around 10 P. M. on Friday and didn't quit until Monday morning. This got me thinking about how I deal with my anxiety and sit down at the keys. I've found that there are a few things that allow me to set down the unwanted stone of anxiety and punch at the keys.
I have a mass of hobbies (knitting/crochet, electronics, drawing, painting, etc.) which I enjoy. Crochet, my unlikely hero, provides me with an excellent distraction when my heart is racing and my armpits sting from the stress of the crowd. It may be the numerous focal points, but I think that the counting of stitches and the rhythm of the hook does more to separate my mind from the multitude.
Put simply, counting things and focusing on a beat can distract, so I pick up a craft that has both.
If you don't have a hobby, pick anything that sounds good and head over to YouTube. There are a million crafts and hobbies on display there and many excellent enthusiastic hobbyists ready to teach you. (Just a tip: you can crochet with your fingers and an old sweater has lots of free yarn :D )
2. Temperature Change
This could just as easily be "environment change" (GET OUT!! AAAAAH!), but it is often enough for me to change the temperature. I can touch something cold or hot and think about that spot instead of the chaos around me. I usually have something cold to drink for just such emergencies. In a pinch (like at the aquarium) tiles and glass are often cooler than their surroundings.
I write primarily at our kitchen table, behind which is a bay window. I like to touch the glass when I'm overthinking every single thing. It grounds me and gives me something simple to focus on. When I'm at my desk I can't do that without knocking over a thousand stacks of paper and piles of yarn, which leads me to the next trick.
3. Embrace Your Inner Lunatic
I pace. A lot. I pace and talk to myself. I act out my dialogue, argue with my "inner editor", have the conversations I shouldn't with people I'm arguing with, and generally let loose the bonds of sanity. It is an impossible task to tell a proper story if you have all that clutter in your head, so find a good spot and let it out.
This may sound like a Bad Idea (™) but it is quite cathartic. After a few minutes I find it much easier to sit down at the keyboard and shovel words onto the page. And if this doesn't work, there's always the nuclear (and best) option...
4. Hug Something
Hugs are underrated. It is a Scientific Fact (™ ) that one hug can permanently banish every demon currently haunting your living room. Not really, but it can't hurt to try. I am fortunate in having a wonderful human I can hug almost anytime I want. I also have a dog who probably doesn't mind and several claw marks from the cat. Failing those options, I have a rather depressing stuffed hedgehog that farts when you squeeze it. It reminds me of my dog Shakes, who hopped a westbound a few years back. I miss her, and feeling that pain makes me feel human again when I just can't do it on my own.
All of these tricks serve one purpose: they make you feel human. Anxiety and stress steal your humanity. They convince you to objectify yourself, to look at yourself as less, broken, bad. You're not.
You are human, and if it takes yammering to yourself on the front stoop while hugging an ice cube wearing a sweater you crocheted? Do it. You're worth it, I'm worth it.
(Weekly Contest Winner) Nobody!!
A hearty round of applause for Nobody, because that's how many saw the contest post this week. I am a dummy and posted it in the wrong place. Yay!! I'll try again next week, sorry all! Have an awesome week and do something you love.
[ DISCLAIMER: I am not a mental health professional. Above are listed tactics which I utilize to overcome my own experience with anxiety. Personal experience is not medical advice. If you experience severe anxiety issues, please consider professional help if available. ]
The first story in the Highgate series is in the edit/rewrite phase. I've been sitting on it for a while and it is unfamiliar enough for me to look at with fresh eyes. It needs some love since I tend to just pile words upon the page in the first draft with little concern for the basics (grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.), but over all it looks good. I will be posting the first three chapters *unedited* on patreon this week.
The Highgate series follows Clarissa Tate, a paranormal investigator seeking to understand the events of her youth. The House at Highgate finds her returning to her childhood home to face the original haunting of her life.
Weekly Contest Idea
I want to involve YOU in my writing! My thought is to have a weekly contest. Readers submit blog topics (like the one below) and I pick the topic which seems the most fun to write about. Winner gets to name a character, subject, or location for one of the daily microfictions I post on Facebook and Twitter.
The guidelines: One submission per week. Topics should be related to science fiction, horror, or fantasy. Submissions should be near the "safe for work" zone. The submission thread will be posted on Fridays on the Antitopia facebook page and my personal page. The pick of the week will be arbitrary and subjective.
Han Solo vs. Malcom Reynolds (This Week's Winner)
This week's winning topic was "Han Solo vs. Malcom Reynolds". These are both good guy scoundrel types, so I doubt they would fight unless given no choice (or if it made a tidy profit). Han Solo has a reliable co-pilot and could call upon his buddy the space wizard (Luke Skywalker) in a pinch. Malcom Reynolds has a full crew with an in-house space wizard-ninja (River Tam). If I judge based on availability of allies, Malcom has the match hands down.
If it is a one-on-one fight, Malcom has it, but not without difficulty. He is a veteran and a fine shot, but Han is more sneaky and could get the first shot in. Captain Reynolds is more tactical so I think it would depend on the venue.
In all honesty, I think they would find a way to turn the tables on whomever pit them against one another. I can see Han and Chewie sitting down in the Serenity's mess hall and having a drink with Wash and Malcom as they laugh at the Hero of Canton's love affair with Vera.
That's all for this week, so don't get cocky, kids, or I swear by my pretty floral bonnet I will end you.
It was suggested that I put Artificial - Part One in a single volume because the individual chapters on vocal.media were...bothersome. Well, I did. It is currently only on Amazon (here), but I am formatting it for other outlets soon (it is under review on publish drive. More info when I have it). If you are on my Patreon, this week's patrons only post includes an .epub format version which should work on most devices.
The free version will remain available until vocal.media goes belly up. This is just all eleven chapters in one volume rather than having to click back and forth to get to the chapters. The image above is the nifty cover I put together.
The first newsletter goes out tomorrow, and you can sign up here. It's free and includes updates and news about the Antitopia Universe, as well as a digest of the microfiction posted on the antitopia.official facebook page.
With the nasty winter storm crossing the U.S. this week, I hope all are safe and staying warm. Be well, friends, and I'll see you all next week!
Recently I began writing microfiction on the official Antitopia facebook page (www,facebook.com/antitopia.official). So why microfiction? I like the medium because it helps me find just the right words to convey a story in the simplest manner. The stories come in around 300 or less words. That's a small space to work!
In addition to being an excellent practice, it is also a fantastic way to kick start my writing day. The creative juices get flowing and the bigger works feel less overwhelming. Honestly I don't know why I hadn't considered doing this before.
Feel free to check out what's there (not much yet but it's growing) and share it around.
I want to give credit where it is due. My friend Jinx Strange (strangefireandfumery.com), an excellent writer in his own right, recommended I check out Tansy Undercrypt (www.facebook.com/tansy.undercrypt). Her microfiction is simply amazing. If you like brilliant stories in a small space, give her a follow on Facebook!