SciFi?

I have a dilemma, and anyone’s opinion on the matter is valuable. The short version of my question is:

Is my story SciFi?

Here’s the problem:

When I think “SciFi,” I think space. I think aliens. These stereotypes are leftovers from being raised with Star Trek as the very definition of SciFi. Well, yesteryear I had a brilliant idea for a story. Basically, everybody over the age of twenty is killed by a disease. (NOTE: I looked up other stories of a similar nature after the fact, and realized that this sort of thing has been done. Mine’s unique, though. So there.) I thought, Okay, my story falls into the category of post-apocalyptic. Post-apocalyptic, it turns out, is a sub-genre of SciFi. Cool. No problem.

Except, when I think “Post-apocalyptic,” I think mayhem. I think the world just after it ended. Well, my story isn’t about the aftermath of the end of the world. It’s about the after-aftermath. The post-post-apocalypse, if you will. It’s set approximately one hundred years into the future–and again, “future” conjures up thoughts of SciFi–and the main character, Iris, has no idea that people used to live to be older than twenty. To Iris, twenty years is a lifetime. Living beyond that is unfathomable. A boy named Kaleb arrives in Iris’s town and says that he’s on a journey to find a cure for the disease that kills everyone at age twenty–a disease that Iris didn’t even know was a disease. So, curious mind that she is, she decides to go with him. The story is their journey to find the cure. It’s about how they bond. It’s about the journey to attempt to conquer death as they know it.

The thing is, although it’s in the future, there’s nothing technologically advanced at all.

The thing is, even though it’s after the apocalypse, it doesn’t seem very post-apocalypse-ish.

The thing is, even though it’s fiction based on science (the disease), it doesn’t seem very science fiction-y.

Honestly, I’ve read very few SciFi books. I would have read more if I’d known that one of my own story ideas would end up in that category. For all I know, there are a bunch of stories out there in the SciFi community that are similar enough to definitively put my book into the SciFi category. So what do you guys think? Do I have science fiction here, or do I have something else?

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More Style Stuff–Speech Tags

Style!

You may recall that I put up a post a while back about style. I addressed participles and appositives, and I mentioned that I got the idea for the post from reading self-published books with a critical eye. I considered making a thing out of commenting on style issues I notice in self-pubs, but since then I haven’t had the privilege of reading very many self-published works.

The main reason I haven’t been reading many self-pubbed books lately is that my own work, The Tiger, is in heavy editing right now and I’ve been committing every spare minute to it. Because of this, I’ve decided to do something better than criticizing others’ works–I’m going to criticize my own! There are a few things worth mentioning that I’ve noticed during my edits and that I’d like to point out and warn others against. They are: Speech Tag Abuse, Unnecessary Descriptions, and General Weak Writing Through Half-Actions.

Today’s topic is:

Speech Tag Abuse

I’m a fan of my dialogue. I think it’s one of my strong suits. I spend a lot of time eavesdropping–er–that is–accidentally overhearing conversations that make for high quality character studies–and I’ve become adept at creating solid, realistic conversations. One point where I dropped the ball, however, was in the general area of speech tags. I had waaaay too many of the damn things, and they muddled up the conversations to the point of making my dialogue less enjoyable.

You don’t need a speech tag every time somebody talks. My advice to you, based upon examination of my own shortcomings, is to use a speech tag only when the reader may be confused about who is speaking. If I were to make a general rule and say that any given paragraph is “about” one person in particular, then the speech tag is unnecessary. Observe:

Iris opened the jar and looked inside. “How many of these things do we have?” she asked.

The fact that Iris is the sole occupant of this paragraph, if you will, reasonably makes her the person who is speaking. The “she asked” is rendered useless, and can muddle up the flow.

And remember: it’s all about flow.

Like all style suggestions, I recommend that you not take this to the extreme. Cut back on your speech tags if you need to, but don’t forget that we still need to know who’s talking. Nobody likes to reread a section of a book to find out who’s saying what.

Tune in next time for Unnecessary Descriptions!

The Poisoned Scorpion

This is, I believe, the first story I ever wrote. I don’t vividly remember writing it. I think it must have been an assignment in kindergarten or first grade or something. At any rate, I was extremely young when I wrote it. It’s too bad my scanner isn’t working, because there are some pretty terrible crayon illustrations that go with it, and I love them. Maybe I’ll get a chance to photograph them sometime so I can put them up.

Either way, here’s the story:

The poisoned scorpion by Scott W.

Once upon a time there was a scientist.

He made a potion that can make poison go away.

Then a scorpion walked into the lab. Then he accidently poisoned himself with the end of his tail!

Then the scientist accidently dropped the potion on the scorpion. And the scorpion felt better. [The illustration here is the scientist dropping the potion and saying, “oops,” and the scorpion saying, “ah mutch better.”]

Then the scorpion walked out of the lab. [The illustration here is the scientist saying, “That was my best experament.” Except I drew the speech bubble before writing the words and it didn’t end up being big enough, so I had to extend it. Twice.]

I admire that my younger self, while unable to spell accidentally, much, or experiment, was able to spell scientist and scorpion.

Too long!

Sorry about, you know, not being around for a while. I’ve more or less dropped everything in my life for the moment so that I can participate in a race to read all of the Harry Potter books without distraction. I have a short story in the works and another all up in my head. I have a pile of editing still left to do on Iris/The Tiger/I Don’t Actually Have A Real Title Yet.

Anyhoo, I’ve discovered that I have another talent. You know how people claim to be able to read the future in tea leaves? Well I can read the present in the ring of dried coffee at the bottom of my cup. Here goes:

Okay. It says…it says I’m typing. And…And I’m eyeing my shoes because I’m about to go on a nightwalk. And…yes. Yes, I’m definitely seeing some more coffee coming my way.

Thanks for reading.

Thoughts on a Kindle

I bought a Kindle. I had a little extra money and I thought, I have a Nook, but maybe I’d like to do some side-by-side comparing of my own and see which one I like better. Turns out that’s the Kindle. Check this out:

Joe Konrath recently said in this blog post that he thinks ereaders and ebooks are going to consist of all this fancypants gadgetry in the near future. Some of what he said sounds like it would be fantastic, but much of it was over the top. Consistent updates to one book based on reader feedback? Admittedly, this sounds AWESOME in theory, but you’d be hard-pressed to find an author right now with that kind of spare time. Go on. Try to. Right now. Okay, that’s what I thought.

Anyway, here’s the strongest, most condensed point of what Konrath said, and I think it’s a good one: With coming (and already available!) technology, readers will be able to connect even MORE easily with one another about a book they love, and the author will be able to join in and play a part in that connection.

Okay, so check this out:

Amazon already has a way for readers to share their highlights and annotations with other readers. I was reading I Wish… by Wren Emerson on my brand new Kindle and I found that every time I highlighted something or typed in a note, it saved it to my very own web page at kindle.amazon.com. Apparently (in higher volume books, at least) Amazon keeps track of passages that are highlighted or annotated often. Apart from that you can follow your friends on it and see what they’re highlighting. The update system makes it appear as though Amazon has taken a turn for the Goodreads here, and that’s a good thing!

I’ve got to do some more messing around with it to become super familiar, but I’m thinking that this could be the gateway into the Author Interaction stage of where ereaders and ebooks are headed. If anyone can go and put annotations into a book, why not get them from the author? Just little notes here and there–where an idea came from, stuff like that. The time required for something like that would be minimal, but the result would be invaluable. It would be like watching a movie with director commentary.

Click here for my Kindle public notes page if you wanna keep track of what I’m highlighting.

Shorts?

On Short Stories, And Whether It’s A Good Idea To Publish Them So That They May Act As Samples To Readers

I’ve noticed a few authors putting up individual short stories for sale. I think I’m in love with this idea.

I’ve been debating whether $.99 is too cheap for a full-length novel, and I think I’ve come to the conclusion that it is. Considering the time and effort put into a novel, if it is worth reading it should probably be priced somewhere around three dollars or more. Short stories, though? Novellas that are 30k or under? Heck, man, I’ll totally buy a $.99 short story just to check out a writer’s style. In fact, I have done so several times now.

The Benefits:

  1. You get what you pay for.
    • If you any money at all for something, you should be able to expect a work of art that has had at least some effort dumped into it in order to create something worth selling. Anybody who has written a novel-length work and given it the editing attention it needs to be salable at all deserves to be able to charge $2.99 or more for it in order to make a reasonable profit off of each sold copy. (With the percentages self-published authors receive from their sales, this amounts to somewhere near $2 per copy when priced at $2.99.) Conversely, a work that has taken considerably less effort to put together and edit and prepare for sale could reasonably be priced at $.99 (with the author gaining something like $.30 per copy). The author needs to do less work, the reader receives less, the author receives a smaller percentage for what he/she has sold.
  2. It’s a solid, cheap way to get a feel for a writer’s style.
    • True, the sampling process available on all sites that allow ebook downloads has made it possible for the reader to see what a writer is capable of. However, I think that I’d rather pay a small price for a small work with a beginning and end to gauge a writer’s skills rather than read the first few pages of a longer work. (Actually, I’d probably do both, but I still feel that a short story can be enlightening when deciding which authors to really pay attention to in the self-publishing market.)

The Downfalls:

I actually can’t think of any right now. Somebody help me out here. Are there any?

Style Improvement

A Quick Comment

Recently, I’ve been reading more self-published books than traditionally published ones. Trying to scope out the market, see what everyone else is up to, stuff like that. Also it’s a cost-effective way to get a good story sometimes, if I can weed through the bad ones. I know the pitfalls of self-publishing as well as the next guy, and the lack of a professional editor is one of them.

That’s not to say that everything out there is bad, just that much of it could use work. I don’t want to start a habit of talking grammar all the time, but there are a few things I’ve noticed while reading independent novels (even ones with perfect spelling, punctuation, etc.) that irk the shit out of me. (NOTE: I may be the only person who is bothered by these things. But I doubt it.)

The one I’m going to mention today isn’t really a grammar mishap at all–it’s more along the lines of a style slip-up, and it’s something that every writer (including myself) is most likely guilty of. The magic words of the day are: Participle and Appositive. I’ve seen participle and appositive phrases used to the point of abuse lately in many of the indie books that I’ve read. Mostly, I think, because they’re grammatically correct–even useful, sometimes.

I’ll do a small recap on their definitions here. I’m sure most of you have heard of these, but it may have been quite some time before you’ve actually gone over what they are. Don’t worry. I plan to keep it simple.

Participle

A participle, in layman’s terms, is a word you’d normally use as a verb which you are using as an adjective. (They usually end in -ed or -ing.)

Example–

Verb: burn

Participle: A burning branch fell to the ground.

Burning modifies the noun branch, but doesn’t act as the verb. The verb here is fell.

So far, so good? All right. Here are a few examples of participle phrases.

Wandering around, Charlie saw several people he recognized.

Heading straight to the back of the line, she hoped to avoid confrontation.

Note that there is nothing technically grammatically unsound about the participle phrase (although it can often lead to dangling modifiers if you don’t watch your step). Its use can add necessary variety to a writer’s style, and I can think of several instances in which they are the right choice. There is definitely a time and a place for it. However, that time is not ALWAYS and that place is not EVERY PARAGRAPH. Reading too many sentences loaded with these can become tiresome for the reader and mess with the flow of a story. And flow, as we all know, is very important.

Appositive

The appositive, in layman’s terms, is a noun or pronoun used to explain another noun or pronoun.

Example–In this sentence:

My friend Charlie was there.

The appositive is friend, which further explains Charlie.

Cool? Okay. Like participles, appositives often come in phrases. Often, the appositive will be modified as well in its phrase. Here are a few examples of appositive phrases.

The train, an old steam engine, was rusted to the tracks.

A competent neurosurgeon, Adam was the ideal candidate to perform the operation.

See where I’m going with this? There’s nothing technically wrong with the appositive phrase either, and they are also useful in the right situation. However, like the participle phrase, it can be tiresome when used in excess. Many times, it’s just easier to state the two nouns separately, or figure out a way to leave one out if possible. As any editor will tell you, sometimes less is more.

Wrap Up

–Watch out for participle phrases that come after your speech tags. They’re the most annoying and the easiest to fix. They look like this:

“Don’t forget about the soup,” Mary said, turning back to the television.

This is much better said:

“Don’t forget about the soup,” Mary said. She turned back to the television.

It may not seem like much on its own, but after five thousand of these in a row, your reader will be sick of them. You should avoid overuse of participle phrases so you can use them when they truly enhance the clarity of your scene. Like I said, the ones after the speech tags are the easiest to clean up.

–Watch out for appositive phrases that might sound better as two separate sentences (or at least two completely independent clauses).

I like to think of participle phrases and appositive phrases as drops of water. One drop of water on your forehead once in a while can be cool and refreshing. Thousands of drops of water on your forehead is the recipe for Chinese water torture.