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The Characters of Dreadship Omnipotence

It’s been over a week since National Novel Writing Month for 2014 began, and I’m currently ahead of the curve. After a rough weekend in which I was forced to bury myself in my academic work and fall behind, I managed to pull through and jump ahead again on Sunday night. Alas, I am still (almost 10,000 words) behind on my reverse NaNoWriMo plan, but hopefully I can make that up soon (despite a wave of papers that need grading)!

So, this week, I wanted to talk (or write, rather) a little bit more about the characters of this year’s NaNoProject and my current central WIP for the forseeable future. I am very excited about this project – more excited about it than I have been about any project in a long while – and part of this attribute to the origins of the story, which I briefly described in last year’s post. Most importantly, unlike most previous works, I actually started this project with the characters, and then fused them with a world I’d been thinking about separately, and I absolutely love both world and characters (I love the plot, too, but it’s rather convoluted and not as “set” as the characters and world are).

So, who are these brave souls that will be exploring my grand cyberpunk universe? Why, they’re the crew of the spacefaring vessel Lysandra (at the moment), and are a group of smugglers, pirates, assassins, and mercenaries willing to do whatever shady job you want! If this cast sounds familiar, it’s probably because it is; as I mentioned before, part of the character set-up for this novel is based on Firefly and other similar shows. However, unlike the crew of Serenity, the crew of the Lysandra do not quibble too much about what jobs they take on, and cover a much wider range of them. There are no war heroes with strong senses of justice on this crew to keep them in check; all that keeps them together are money and a shared sense of camaraderie developed over a long period of putting up with each other. Unlike the crew of Serenity, they have only a very slight moral compass.

This is not to say that the main cast consists only of cruel and vicious characters who would sell their own grandmother for a penny. They’re not heartless; they just care about themselves and those in their social networks significantly more than they care about anyone else. They will not hesitate to kill or do unsavory jobs, even it means hurting a lot of people. They stay afloat at the bottom of society, and don’t have the luxury of being too choosy. They do what has to be done, and have no regrets.

So, in some ways, they’re like a nastier version of Firefly’s crew. But who are they, actually? They come from all walks of life, but here’s a brief teaser of each of the main cast:

Idim Jyn – The charismatic captain of the ship and an insufferable prankster, he acts like a bumbling idiot most of the time to hide his true intelligence. He has an incredibly disciplined mind and is capable of mental feats few can master, and on top of that is a master of both strategy and tactics. He does have a warm heart beneath his cold, analytic mindset, but it takes a lot to bring it out, and even then he reserves it mostly for people he knows or people he thinks will be useful. Idim is always willing to give everyone a fair chance to prove themselves to him, but he does not believe in second chances. He remembers little about his childhood, except that it was awful, and briefly held a post as a military analyst and mercenary for a short-lived and little-known terrorist group before it disbanded. He despises most forms of virtual reality, though is more than competent with other technology that lets him interact with the digital networks of the universe, known as “wires.”

Tathal Litenz – The ship’s first mate and pilot, Tathal is a very troubled woman. She doesn’t remember who she originally was, as she digitized her consciousness long ago and has had it transferred between a wide variety of bodies before losing all of her wealth and getting stuck with the semi-reanimated corpse of a drug addict on the planet of Utopia. She looks like a mess and needs a rather constant supply of drugs to fuel the broken body she currently inhabits, and she strives desperately to gain access to one of the rare facilities where she can change bodies again. She is gruff, easily angered, blunt, and unwilling to compromise. She tolerates Idim Jyn and respects his intelligence, but is somewhat distant from the rest of the crew. No one understands why she is the first mate, and not Krisval Orteck.

Krisval Orteck – Krisval hates his name, and when he was old enough had it changed to “Melkorh” after his favorite evil entity in his favorite holodrama. He also has a pet robotic mouse named “Soron.” Melkorh is the ship’s engineer, and is not comfortable with the digitization of the world, and was only dragged into the realm of organic nanobots and the wire kicking and screaming. He is brilliant with hardware, however (and some of the relevant software), and possesses a mechanical arm that not only houses a huge variety of tools, but can also be used as a dangerous weapon. He is insecure and quiet, yet extremely competent. He is one of Idim’s closest friends, and understands him on a level no one else does.

Marek Syonda  A short, plump, heavily bearded man dubbed the team’s “Demolitions and Distractions” specialist. He is a brilliant hacker of local wires, as well as an expert in demolitions. He speaks very formally and thinks of himself as an artist and gentleman. He is an infamous media bomber, and is wanted under numerous identities for “hazards to public knowledge,” not to mention terrorism. Despite his mild-mannered and kindly appearance, Marek has little regard for anyone he does not know personally; to him, everyone he doesn’t know is just an abstraction and could even be a false creation in an increasingly digital universe. As such, while he is kind in person, he has no problem with killing large quantities of people to achieve his ends or unseating entire media systems to distract people from what his friends are up to. Problems are only real when they affect him and those he knows; otherwise, he could not care less. The digital and social experience of mankind, to him, is a blank canvas.

Bygorj Vishtahl – A former Druidic priest of the Empire of Man, he was cast out for his unorthodox ways. He inhabits an inhuman body, being a ten-foot tall, green-furred minotaur/satyr hybrid. He believes that all life and matter is linked together through quantum resonance, and so that death is largely meaningless, and is merely a reordering of the great god Pan’s affairs. As such, he has no qualms about killing and feels no remorse, no matter the victim. He serves as the crew’s doctor and cook (he used to get those two jobs mixed up, but he’s better now), and is also extremely devoted to spreading the word of Pan to anyone who will listen – and many who won’t.

Lemi Forsath – An orphan from the planet Utopia, Tathal picked her up to force her to repay a debt, and Lemi now works as a cabin-girl on the ship, performing odd tasks and helping where she can. She is very young, being only about ten years old, but spent her whole life on the streets. She is a brilliant digital artist, and is a master of projecting images into other peoples’ heads. She dreams of being a big holodrama producer some day. She gets along well with most of the crew, save for Idim and Melkorh, who both have a distaste for her digital art and find her more annoying than anything.

Fitnaya Almakry – Introduced under the alias Khoresh Eylkaum, Fitta is one of mankind’s most feared assassins, most wanted criminals, and a sniper beyond compare. She is also a very skilled hacker, though has trouble hacking on the fly, and so is very fond of careful planning. She makes use of ubiquitous security cameras to line up her shots after hacking into their feeds, and uses surprisingly small, yet powerful, pistols to do her job. She joins the crew initially as an extra hired hand on a mission, but circumstances later force her to join them permanently and reveal her true identity. She is very intolerant of incompetence and is rather caustic and sarcstic. She strongly dislikes Idim, but comes to eventually recognize his competence.

Obri Hathorken –  The crew’s part-time intern, Obri handles mid-range planning and is an expert in both nanotechnlogy and superlocal wire hacking. While Marek hacks the small stuff, Obri hacks the big stuff. She works at a prestigious laboratory as her day job, and uses a holographic projector to work with the crew when she’s not working there. She is extremely intelligent – quite possibly the smartest member of the crew – and teases everyone around her mercilessly. Though she’s relatively new to the crew, she’s already made herself home there and is relied upon by them all.

Priva-Dynaj Matory – The crew’s “handler,” Dynaj (or “Dynnie” as Idim calls her) is an older woman who is obsessed with rediscovering her “analog” self. While extremely competent in the virtual world, Dynaj enjoys spending her time free of the wire whenever she can. She is an avid roleplayer and phenomenal accountant, and is in charge of lining up jobs for the crew. Like Obri, she does not physically travel with them, but calls and texts them frequently to keep them up to date on their accounts and upcoming jobs. Dynaj is very well-organized and always several steps ahead of the crew in her planning.

Syon Q – No one knows what the Q stands for, not even himself. Syon Q is an old man whose previous crew wired him into the Lysadra‘s weapons system, which drove him slightly insane. He identifies more with digital entities and artificial intelligences than with “meatbags,” and can hear the voices of even the smallest pieces of software. He is very attached to the Lysandra and communicates with the rest of the crew on her behalf. He is prone to childish fits of rage and a very shaky conception of reality; he drove off the previous crew of the Lysandra by constructing mobile turrets and literally chasing them off the ship. He was subdued by Idim’s crew and converted to Druidism by Bygorj, who has become his best meatbag friend.

So, there’s the crew of the Lysandra. They won’t all last through the story (I already know at least two will die – but whom?), but for now I am enjoying them. As for other characters – like the antagonist – they’re identities will remain secret, as their faces are important twists in the story’s planned plot. But, just for teasers, here are the names of a few of the major antagonists, human and not: Methuselah Charmandrius, Zigur Zanzak, the Spider, and of course the overarching baddy, the Basilisk.

Until next time, happy writing, and wish me luck!

*goes back to scribbling*

(c) Z. M. Wilmot

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Posted by on November 11, 2014 in Writing

 

NaNoWriMo and Dreadship Omnipotence

As always, I’ve been busy slaving away for my PhD program, this time mostly focusing on my Master’s project and my teaching assistant duties. Unfortunately for my sanity and free time, however, November also marks National Novel Writing Month, when I sit down to try and write 50,000 words on a single project in thirty days. If you haven’t come across the event before (abbreviated NaNoWriMo), I highly recommend you visit the site here. If you’re interested, you still have time to hop in and go; all you need to do is make an account and start writing!

This year, I’m hoping to get a huge chunk of my current main WIP, Dreadship Omnipotence, done (so far I’ve got 5,100 words written). By no means do I think I’ll come close to even finishing it, especially seeing as how it looks more and more like the story will become a trilogy. I have neglected to post any information about this work yet, though, so I’ll take a few minutes from my writing time to sum up this year’s NaNo project, and the current focus of my attention!

The basic plot, in blurb form, is simple: Idim Jyn is the captain of a crew of space pirates and smugglers in a transhuman future where the disparate factions of mankind have begun to journey down very different evolutionary paths, and the very nature of humanity is uncertain. When Jyn’s crew steal an experimental starship from a secret laboratory, they uncover a terrible truth and find themselves in the middle of a war against an unknowable godlike being from the far future.

My idea for the story began about a year ago, when I tried to imagine what it would be like to write my own spaceship-roaming-through-space novel (a fairly common trope, particularly in television shows such as FireflyLexxBattlestar Galactica [to an extent], Farscape, and manga/anime like Cowboy Bebop and One Piece). I developed the character of the captain (who was then called Adam Jayne), heading a ship he arrogantly called the Dreadship Omnipotence leading a band of space pirates, who plundered and pillaged the galaxy as they willed and had a good time. My original conception of the captain was actually based on Jayne Cobb from Firefly, which was where I got the name Adam Jayne (the first names of Jayne’s actor Adam Baldwin and Jayne himself). In the current incarnation, this was altered to Idim Jyn and his personality is rather different, but there’s still something similar about Idim and Adam.

Alas, I shelved this idea for a while as I focused on other projects, until I ran across a neat roleplaying game called Eclipse Phase through one of my (far too few) friends. The game is set in a transhuman solar system, and it fired my creativity drives more than anything had in a while. I let the basic ideas of transhumanism, horror, and the black void between planets and stars guide me, and soon I came up with a rather detailed transhuman future, with an attached cyberpunk space opera plot and a cast of wild characters.

For the rest of the month, I’m going to try to post once per week with a short novel excerpt, and a brief description of the characters, the world, and the plot; the holy trinity. For next week, I’ll be writing a bit about the characters, so stay tuned! For now, you can check out the excerpt posted on my Works in Progress page if you’re interested, and then read this small excerpt below. Until next time, ta-ta!

***

“Have you been saved today?” the thing said to another man as he dangled a pamphlet in front of him. The man held a fry in one trembling hand as he slowly stood up and backed away, with one last longing glance toward his meal. “The great god Pan knows what to do! Submit to your inner nature and follow the three-fold path of the Druid! First, come to terms with who you are-”

The man was gone. The big figure frowned and turned to his friend, sitting across the table. “And you, ma’am, have you heard the word of our Great God Pan?”

“We don’t need your imperalist religion here,” the woman sneered, crossing her arms. “Religion is the opiate of the masses. You priests just use it to control the citizens of the Imperium.”

“No, no, no, you’ve got it all wrong,” the figure said, not unkindly. “I am no longer even a part of the glorious Imperium; I am an ambassador of my own free will. My unorthodox interpretations of the scripture led to my banishment, you see. But that just goes to show how truly great and flexible the great faith is! For even though I have been cast out from its noble ranks, I am still able to consider myself a true servant of Pan! I know that I have found his shade, and I am equally sure that soon my imperial comrades will join me!” The being cleared its throat, then continued. “The noble faith of Druidism can never control then, you see, but only liberate! It will help you connect with your innermost self, and help you find your place within the universe-”

“Eh, fuck you,” the woman said.

“Oh, indeed, that is one of Pan’s greatest teachings! ‘Men of the universe, be virile, and women, be fertile, so that life can ever increase and the universe will be filled with the vitalitous bounty of untold children, and thus may the cosmos come to know pure joy in richness and diversity!’ I would be honored to, as you say, fuck you.”

The woman stood up, edged away, and then fled without another word.

(c) Z. M. Wilmot

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2014 in Writing

 

The Holy Trinity: Character, Plot, and Setting

There are probably as many different answers for what elements make up a good story as there are writers and readers, but I think most of these can be boiled down into what I think of as the “holy trinity” of a story: character, plot, and setting. A story, to me at least, is different from storytelling. Storytelling is the way a story is told, and having a good story is only one part of good storytelling. The language, images, pacing, clarity, and balance also matter a great deal, but in this post I want to focus on the elements of a good story, separated from the art of storytelling as much as possible.

The Holy Trinity are all interconnected and reinforce each other, but they do not necessarily go hand-in-hand. A good story has strong characters, a well-developed plot, and a well-thought out setting, but many writers specialize in one, or two, of these areas. Some authors, particularly in the realm of science fiction, do very well with one or two of these elements, and are noticeably lackluster with regards to the other. Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, for example, have brilliant plots and settings, but their characters are extremely forgettable. Going further with this example, I would say Asimov specializes in setting, and Clarke in plot, and that their proficiency in these areas helps make up for their deficiency in character.

That being said, it is important define exactly what I mean by characters, setting, and plot. Characters are the agents in the story, who the reader can identify with and who give the story a soul. Good characters are consistent, well-thought out, and understandable. They need to feel human, even if they are not. If they’re not human, then even though the alien/inhuman characters are characters, they do not contribute to the character element of a story; instead, they contribute to its setting, as they function as part of the larger world instead of as characters.

So characters give a story soul.

What, then, does plot give a story? Plot gives a story mind. While characters breathe life into a story, it is the plot that gives it intelligence. A plot does not have to be complex to be good; indeed, overly complex plots are the downfall of many stories (I’m looking at you, Moffat’s Doctor Who). An intelligent plot, like a character, should also be identifiable, and it should allow the reader to think about what is going on. It should be understandable, but also thought-provoking; the plot should present situations that the reader could envision themselves in, and can think of their own solutions to. If your characters are well-done, then hopefully their reactions to the plot won’t be the same as the readers, which can lead to tension.

If characters give a story a soul, and plot a mind, then the setting gives the character a body. The setting contains both the characters and the plot, and yet is also separate from them. It is the medium on which the other two exist, and it is what gives the characters context and the plot meaning. The setting is what fleshes out the story, and gives it a feeling of reality – or alternate reality. The setting consists of all of the background, the places, the social structure, the laws of physics; the setting is what allows you to feel as if you are no longer a reader, but an inhabitant of this other place.

But which of these elements is the most important to a story, I hear someone ask (or is that the voice in the back of my head)? All three are important, and what is the most important depends entirely on the reader or writer’s opinion. I recently watched a show (the anime Puella Magi Madoka Magica), and was somewhat underwhelmed by it, much to the shock of the show’s fans who had recommended it to me. A discussion on the relative merits and demerits on the show led me to realize my opinion of the show was so different because I watched the show differently. I watched the show differently because, to me, setting is paramount, plot second, and characters last. The fans in question, however, viewed characters as paramount, and on further reflection the character development was very good, but because characters don’t matter as much to me as setting or plot (which was not nearly as well-thought-out or consistent as the characters), the show fell a little flat for me. So, in the end, it is up to the reader or writer to decide what is most important, though keeping all three in mind is always good.

For me personally, though, because I view setting a defining both the plot and characters, I see it as the most important. For me, setting can make or break a show. Plot, to me, is almost as important because it usually makes me think more than the other elements, and that thinking is why I like to read (and write). Characters are the least important to me, and I am more than happy to tolerate bad characters if the setting and plot are phenomenal. Of course, this is personal, and I don’t claim that any of the trinity are intrinsically better than the others; I just value them differently.

As I said before, all of the three are interconnected, and when done well reinforce each other. Minor characters, while part of the characters, are also often part of the story’s background and thus contribute to its setting. Major characters drive the plot forward. Mysteries and secrets woven into the setting can allow a plot come into being, and events in the setting’s past can motivate a character to do whatever it is she wants.

Sometimes, one element of the story can trump the others, and yet still bring the others to high heights. One way of creating a plot is to choose a setting and put the characters into it and see what happens. A writer could develop a plot, match it to a setting, and then fill it in with the appropriate characters. One could also develop a character and create a plot around his life. Another way – my way – is to create a world with some fundamental aspect that is either unknown or that changes, and then build a plot around that element, and create characters to fill the necessary roles in the plot. One could also come up with a neat idea for a plot, fill it with characters, and then decide where the plot would best fit in.

I believe most writers start with one element, and then match the other two to it. All writing starts with an idea, and the nature of this idea is what defines the beginning element, the story’s seed, and often its strongest aspect. An idea along the lines of “what if the world looked like this?” is often a setting seed. One that sounds like “what if this happened?” is often a plot seed, and an idea like “what would someone like this do?” is a character seed. All three beginnings are equally valid, and yield great results.

And so I think that all stories begin with an idea seed, and that thus all stories contain an idea at their heart. This idea is what makes a story interesting, and is what makes it resonate (or not) with the reader. For me, the interesting ideas lie in setting (doubtless an influence of my historical and sociological training), while others may find plot or character ideas more interesting. It’s all up to the reader.

In the end, the point of this long-winded ramble is that I think all stories begin with a seed based around a setting, a plot, or a character, and that the other elements grow from there to form a full story. While no part is greater than the other, different readers and writers value them differently. And I shall leave you with that, and welcome any comments.

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2014 in Writing

 

The Art of Surprise

I think the word “suddenly” is one of the most overused words in the English language. The word has its uses, but it is not as useful a word as many think it is, in my own humble opinion. The word is an adverb, and if you adhere to Stephen King’s writing recommendations, this makes it inherently evil. While I don’t think adverbs are as terrible as Mr. King does, “suddenly” is an adverb that should immediately arouse suspicion.

Why? Because the word is counterproductive. The word “suddenly” is supposed to inform the reader that something is happening very quickly and is coming as a surprise or shock. But by informing the reader of the upcoming surprise, it spoils the surprise. For example: George lay down in his soft bed, lulled quickly into the depths of slumber by the constant chirps of the crickets outside. He dreamt of cake and cherry pie, and danced a merry jig with the lord of the ladybugs. Suddenly, the chirps stopped. George was awake in an instant. In that example, the word functions as a connector. It marks the transition from the soothing world of cricket chirps to the eerie world of silence. It makes the transition more obvious, less subtle, and most importantly for those who use the word, less awkward.

If you remove the “suddenly” from the example, it becomes: George lay down in his soft bed, lulled quickly into the depths of slumber by the constant chirps of the crickets outside. He dreamt of cake and cherry pie, and danced a merry jig with the lord of the ladybugs. The chirps stopped. George was awake in an instant. This doesn’t really work, as without the mark of the transition, we have no real sense of time or when the transition is taking place.

Yet, at the same time, the “suddenly” takes away from the surprise by warning you that you are going to be surprised. It is a red flag that tells the reader that something unexpected is going to happen. As a result, you expect the unexpected, and the impact of the surprise is lessened. So, the question becomes, how can you make the reader genuinely surprised and shocked, but also make the writing flow and make sense?

My own answer to this is the paragraph. Paragraphs mark divisions, but because they can mark a much wider range of divisions than the word “suddenly,” the reader doesn’t necessarily know that something unexpected will happen when they get to the next paragraph. As a result, we get:

George lay down in his soft bed, lulled quickly into the depths of slumber by the constant chirps of the crickets outside. He dreamt of cake and cherry pie, and danced a merry jig with the lord of the ladybugs.

The chirps stopped. George was awake in an instant.

For me, at least, this last example is the most powerful because of the abruptness of the switch. There isn’t a clear warning sign in the form of a connecting word; the surprise and suddenness of the event in question is conveyed by the abrupt writing and George’s reaction; the last example shows instead of tells. And, unlike the second example, the paragraph break allows the reader to differentiate between two flows of time; the status quo described in the first paragraph, and the disruption of that status quo in the second. To me, an abrupt breaking of the status quo, with no connecting words but a clear differentiation between two moments in time, is the best way to express surprise.

 
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Posted by on June 3, 2014 in Writing

 

New Projects!

It’s been a little bit since I’ve posted here, but this time I’ve actually been getting some writing done! I’ve finished rough drafts of two new short stories, “Wings” and “Bedtime,” and I’ve been working on another called “The Passing.” “Wings” was the result of a prompt an apartment-mate at university gave me (“buffalo angel wings”), and turned into a very open-ended story about fallen angels, hungry giants, memory loss, and the malleability of reality. “Bedtime” is very short, about 500-word piece exploring what happens if there really is a monster under the bed. I’m currently editing and revising these pieces, and hopefully will be submitting them to be published in as-of-yet-to-be-determined places. The piece I’m currently working on, “The Passing,” was inspired by this scene from Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated, an SB incarnation I have very mixed feelings about. It involves an interdimensional being “passing” through someone’s home in the middle of the night, and interacting with the homeowner in a variety of unsettling ways that drive him to insanity.

Those short stories aside, I have two other projects currently in development. The first is another free online serial novel, in the vein of the dead Astral Tide, but this time with just myself writing. It does, however, borrow heavily from many of the themes present in the earlier work. Beginning June 9th, every Monday I will post a 500-2000 word chapter in the story, which is what I call a “post-Lovecraftian” tale, mixing science fiction, horror, and fantasy in a post-apocalyptic setting in which Lovecraftian monsters have awoken on earth. The setting borrows heavily from the Cthulhu Mythos, and will feature characters and beasts from Lovecraft’s works very prominently. For those of you who are interested, I will direct you to The Eldritch Wastes, where you can read more about it and dive into the short preludes I have been putting up. I encourage you all to check it out!

The other project I’ve been working on is another new short novel-length piece. I got bitten by a really bad plot bunny a few days back, and I’ve been plotting like crazy. The current working title of the piece is Moons Over Sothenheim, and I am aiming for a 50-75 thousand word novel in which capitalism meets Lovecraft. It begins as a science fiction dystopian novel taking place about three hundred years in the future, and follows the troubles of a young woman trying to survive in a Darwinist universe, but over the course of the novel she winds up mining on one of the moons of the frontier planet Sothenheim, where something beyond human comprehension is being exploited by leaders of industry, threatening all human life. In order to ensure that I finish this project (hopefully by the end of this summer, fingers crossed), I will attempt to write the whole first draft in the month of June, in the form of my own Camp NaNoWriMo, complete with weekly updates. So, stay tuned for all of this, and I’ll be back soon!

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2014 in Writing

 

NaNoWriMo and Sundering Stars

Hello everyone! Sorry this post has been so long in coming, but as always, I have been super busy. However, I hold no illusions of that being an excuse. However, I’ve been writing, and this time I’ve been writing substantially! Why, do you ask? NaNoWriMo, that’s why! Yes, for the fifth year in a row, I will be attempting to write 50,000 words in one month! I have so far succeeded every preceding year, producing The Loneliness of Stars in 2009, The Libel of Blood in 2010, and the first parts of the first drafts of The Divine Madness of Kings and A Deadly Dance in 2011 and 2012, respectively. This year, I am continuing on my first major work (read: novel) not set in the Juxian Mythos: Sundering Stars. I already had a little over 4,000 words of it written before NaNoWriMo began on November 1, and I would be extremely surprised if the novel ended at 50,000 words. So, my goal is not to finish the novel, but add 50,000 words to it. So far, at the beginning of Day 10, I have written 15,526 words, putting me right on track (added to what I’ve already written, that puts the novel at 20,96 words).

So, you ask, what is Sundering Stars about? Well, it’s loosely based around the background for an online forum game I was once designing, to ease the hole in my heart when I resigned from my position at another online forum game I had created. The project didn’t get off the ground, but I didn’t want to abandon my ideas and work; and so, the novel began.

Sundering Stars is about many things, and will likely morph into at least a trilogy (currently am toying with the titles Sundering StarsDestroying Worlds, and Constructing Gods as possible titles). At its very core, the novel is about humanity’s first encounter with alien life-forms – the Draukan, who are extremely hostile, and nearly wipe humanity off the face of the universe. Despite the Draukan’s vast technological superiority and enormous resource collection potential due to their vast empire, humanity managed to hold them off and push them back. The novel begins after the end of the first Draukan war, with humanity dreading the Draukan’s return.

Thematically, the novel will deal with ideas of eugenics, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, genocide, transsexuality, dualism, gender roles, cultural barriers, revolution, social control, social cohesion, social and individual evolution, and godhood. In a way, I view a lot of the novel as being “hard social science fiction,” and will be drawing upon a lot of social theories I’m picking up in my training as a sociologist.

I am really excited about this project not just because all of these deep themes, but because of the characters I have created, who I am very fond of. There are multiple main characters, whose storylines converge over the course of the novel. There is a high-powered politician striving to ensure that the Republic of Man remains united, a decorated war hero who helped win the Draukan War, a perverted and genius professor of xenobiology, a poor, two unemployed people experiencing the cruelties of poverty and intolerance, an unnamed human enslaved by the Draukan and seeking a deeper meaning in his imprisonment, a sophisticated, rich businesswoman, and an astrophysicist with a dark secret.

For your reading enjoyment, I have attached part of the novel below, wherein the admiral and war hero is escorting a diplomatic envoy to treat with the Draukan. Enjoy!

***

“We cannot yet track their h-space movements, no,” Avos murmured. “Jumping out practically on top of the Illuminator was either a huge risk or a great testament of skill. On their part.”

“Or perhaps both,” Lori murmured. “The Draukan have opened up a comm channel. Non-psy. Breaking into it now… and broadcasting.”

The bridge was suddenly filled with a horrible, guttural, grating voice. It took the listeners a few moments to sort through the sounds and realize that it was speaking in English.

Speak your piece now.

After a moment’s pause, Arkanian replied. “Greetings, ambassador. This is our third attempt to initiate a meaningful dialogue with you. It does neither of our peoples any good to remain in a state of constant war. It drains resources and strains the psychology of both our peoples. Both of our empires could expand culturally and technologically if we formalize a ceasefire. There is no need for us to fight; the universe is enormous. We don’t need to be in each other’s way.”

War is eternal.” The reply was almost instant, and it sounded even more scornful than its first utterance.

“But it does not have to be,” Arkanian said. “Think of how much better things would be if we weren’t fighting!”

War is progress. Conflict is the future.

“All right then,” Arkanian said. “What if we lay out our borders then? Then our conflicts will have a clear context.”

Borders are meaningless. Conflict is its own context.

“And cooperation? What about cooperation?”

Cooperation furthers conflict.

Lori snorted. “What the hell is it talking about?”

“Cooperation to a Draukan is done merely in order to strengthen one’s own position vis-a-vis others. It facilitates conflict on a larger scale. For example, all Draukan cooperating with each other facilitates more efficient and larger conflict with mankind.”

“So without an external foe would the Draukan cooperate?”

Avos’ lip twitched. “Who knows.”

“What do your people gain from this constant war?” Arkanian continued, unable to hear Lori and Avos’ discussion.

Strength. Evolution.”

Avos nodded to himself. “They’re obsessed.”

“Hm?” Lori said.

“With evolution. Hyper-Darwinist.”

“But cooperation brings strength too!” Arkanian said. “What if mankind and Draukan were to combine forces? Think of the strength we would have! None could stand in our way!”

“Good argument,” Avos said. “But they won’t buy it.”

You could make us stronger, but you would hinder evolution. Mankind would become a crutch. We cannot cooperate.

“Fine. Then can we at least formalize something? Some set of rules for war? A line that cannot be crossed?”

All lines can be crossed.”

***

(c) 2013 Zachary Wilmot

 
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Posted by on November 10, 2013 in Writing

 

Universe, Plot, Characters, and Inspiration

As I embarked on my newest (new) project, Sundering Stars, I started to think a lot about what got me excited about writing and what inspired me to actually sit down and get things down. One does not need inspiration to write, but it certainly is more fun and often more rewarding when you are writing and feel inspired.

Recently, I haven’t been writing (see my previous post, Excuses, for a semi-coherent rambling on that subject). I have no one to blame but myself, as I kept making excuses for why I wasn’t writing because I never felt inspired to write. What has, of late, gotten me back into writing is actually being truly excited about a new project.

What makes this new project different from my old WIP’s (which I by no means will abandon) is that my source of excitement and inspiration is different. With all of my Juxian tales (save Tal’kan, which is a special case) including The Divine Madness of KIngsZigguratsBeneath, and A Deadly Dance, the inspiration and drive to write the novels was based on their shared universe, the Juxian mythos. My Juxian mythos is insanely detailed and I absolutely love it, but I realized over the past few weeks that I was trying to write these novels based on nothing more than the universe. No matter how detailed or well-thought out a universe is, it is never enough to base an entire novel on (a short story, perhaps). What these Juxian novels needed was something of substance; characters and plot. A universe is, in the end, often little more than the backdrop of the story.

What makes Sundering Stars different is that I was not inspired initially by the universe, as my Juxian stories all are. It was the characters which made me want to write, in particular the “female lead” Maria Holstead, who is in my outlines shaping up to be one of my most interesting characters ever. Following the characters came a vague concept of a plot, and (gasp) literary themes! The universe is something I’m borrowing from a forum game I started writing rules for but never got off the ground (which goes by the same title that the project currently does). Unlike my normal approach, the universe is secondary.

This is all revolutionary to me, and I have spent a while developing the world of Sundering Stars now, but for the first time I am motivated by characters and plot. This has gotten me out of my Juxian rut and started writing again. This leads me to the conclusion (that I am sure you other writers have long realized) that characters and plot are the driving force behind any good work, not the world. My Juxian novels were always about characters exploring the world I had created. Sundering Stars will be more about the world exploring the characters.

Now that I’ve had this epiphany, I hope I can keep up the momentum, and after Sundering Stars I hope to return to Tal’kan, which is a character and plot driven story only partially set against the Juxian mythos. It will take me a while to get used to this new character-focused mindset; I am much more comfortable with universe creation!

What aspect of writing drives your motivation? What aspect inspires you most? Character? Plot? Universe? Llamas?

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2013 in Writing