Monday, May 4, 2009

Workshop: Pushing Further

Thank you all for the responses you've given me. (Catreona, will I be seeing more answers coming from you? I hope so. I'm also waiting on Khajidu.)

I'm fascinated by the answers I've seen; I'm also fascinated by how different they are from the ones I got in my last workshop. Last time I started with questions to the author, and moved on to questions from the POV of the character. This time I went straight for the character questions - and the interesting thing is, they turned into interviews with the characters!

This is very cool.

But I'd like to see us, as a group, push our awareness a little further. Maybe the way I'd describe it is instead of interviewing the character, giving the character an opportunity to speak as he or she would in public, go a little further into your own sense of the psychology of the character. Many characters have things they feel instinctively but for personal reasons (embarrassment, standoffishness, shame, lack of self-knowledge) are unable to describe. Many have past experiences that give them pride, strength, or vulnerability. What might some of those things be for your character? Below, I'll respond directly to each person's questions, both to let you know what I'm getting, and to be more concrete about what I'm still looking for.

Catreona and Khajidu, I don't have all your answers and I'd like to address them all at once, so they won't be here below.

Jeanne: Wrai
I loved your answers, because I really got a sense of Wrai's personality from them. At the same time, from a worldbuilding perspective, they left out a lot. I know that Wrai wouldn't go explaining the little details of things, but what would happen if someone asked him to, and he consented? What exactly is "nice" about the southron, for example? What exactly is going on with the "dung-eating father"? I think that's related to Wrai's contempt for nobles. Can you explain some of the backstory experiences to me? Also, are there police in this world, or just "guards?" I'd also like to know a little bit more about Sharista and the extended circumstances around her. What has his relationship been with her? How often would he think of her, and why, and what experiences would he think of? That sort of thing. Because your setting is quite strongly detailed in its physical aspects, I'd like to see about pushing further on Wrai's personal views and feelings about the things he experiences.

David: Jasmine
Wow, David, it was great to see you get into first person answers! The voice is fun. I think you've got some interesting possibilities going in the family of telepaths thing. It makes sense that she'd try to find a way to escape it, given her background. I'm getting the sense from you that engineered abilities are common in her world, and thus that she's part of a larger community where telepathy isn't so unusual? How would that affect her view of herself and her ability? In the Ben situation, you have some serious stakes for whatever it was she did. I think the question of her crime, and her motive, are critical here, and I'd love to see that appear somewhere in your piece. In the musical Chicago, one of the characters says "I didn't do it, but if I'd done it, how could you tell me that I was wrong?" I think that's a little like what I might like to see from Jasmine - tailored of course to voice and circumstances. I like Riko; also it seems her mother (or whoever grounds her) might be an authority figure here. You seem at a certain point to suggest that she dresses in embarrassing clothes intentionally to hone her ability. This is an interesting angle you might want to pursue. I'm not "getting" her father's ability at all, and I wish I knew more about broken mental powers (how were they broken? what broke them? if she doesn't know, then what does she know about others with similar problems?) Is the wardrobe large? Is it with her on her VoidWatch sentence? Finally, I'm curious about the coexistence of high-tech future with the Goddess of Justice. This is something unusual enough that you might want to mention it early, just so people don't get comfortable in a high-tech future mindset and then refuse to go with you when you go there later.

Colin: Lanuz
Your past world seems rather medieval England-y at first glance. I'd like to see you pin down a few concrete details of Lanuz's personal experience, so that he'll have some memories to use to judge the world into which he gets dumped later. You say for example that "in light of our job, petty squabbles are meaningless." This makes me curious, so give me something more. Maybe an instance in which a petty squabble led to something seriously bad (because just because people aren't supposed to squabble doesn't mean they don't). Would Lanuz have been the type to start the squabble and then learn his lesson? Or would he have been the horrified bystander who then became a zealous enforcer of the peace as a result? I hope you see what I mean. He sounds from his voice like the kind of guy who's actually pretty highly regarded in his group; why would this be? What has he done to prove himself? How does he feel about this? What is he proud of, and where might he be vulnerable? Your answer about clothing is vague, simply because for him it's normal, but for us, it doesn't say much. So is he in plate armor? Chain mail? Something else? I like the relation between his possessions and the village. Does he have a strong sense of his vocation? If this is indeed a medieval-like setting, he's got to be pretty well off if he doesn't consider himself lucky to eat meat regularly. Is this sword of his the sword of power? If he's tempted to get rid of it, does that mean he uses another sword in his work? Maybe you could clear that up for me. Also, the Reijak - are they considered a superior, peer, or inferior race? What are the general perceptions of them and what they do? (Are they going to show up in the future world?) I like what you say about the watch feeling estranged from the villagers; they've seen the harder side of life. Do they consider the villagers to be lucky lambs? How might that affect how Lanuz sees the barman and young mechanic in your scene? Finally, about Order. Who embodies Order? Who teaches it? Why is it considered to be of value? Is it something people perceive that they have lost? I'd love to know more about this.

These questions are intended to open a discussion, so I look forward to your comments. I know the workshop has been strung out a bit by my Nebulas visit etc. but I'm working toward suggesting some revisions to the scenes I've seen from you, and I hope to give you my specific requests in the next couple of days. Thanks for all your great responses so far.

More soon...


  1. Jasmine's voice if definitely fun to do. :)

    I do have answers, and I'll post them tomorrow. Right now, real life is getting in the way of fiction yet again.

    PS I have just thought of an excellent way to turn the tables on Jasmine, too. (Evil Mad Scientist laugh).

  2. Juliette,

    Sorry for the delay. Here are Tsumw's answers. Do you need another character's answers ?

    1. What is my home like? How do I visualize its boundaries?

    I live in Orlêzh, maybe the biggest city in the world, and the most powerful. Orlêzh has maybe a million inhabitants. This is impressive to most people, but I've always lived there and I'm pretty used to it.
    More precisely, I live next door to Xodull, in the upper north district, one of the richest in the city. I've been playing in a band for more than thirty-two years and I also work as a physician, which means we've had time to earn some money and be able to live there.
    I was born in a family of scientists. Both my parents, my brother and my sister are scientists and I am a physician. Two of my grandparents come from another continent, which means we grew up in two different cultures. I feel at home with people of both cultures, even as I find oddities in them.

    2. What weather and physical conditions do I consider normal? What do I fear?

    The weather is quite humid here, with a lot of rain and snow. Winters are pretty cold and summers are hot. We get the occasional storm, but it's much milder than outside the interior sea. We also get some floods, especially in the spring and fall. They're usually mild, but the districts closest to the river have been wiped out several times in Orlêzh's history.

    3. What kind of topography did I grow up in, and how did it influence my physical condition and my concepts of comfort?

    Orlêzh is in front of the sea, but the area is also a bit hilly which means we have to climb quite a bit to get home. However, there are cabs, but they can be quite expensive if you travel far.

    4. In what kind of place do I feel most at home? What shapes and textures give me comfort, or discomfort?

    I'm most used to big cities. There are a lot of people, a lot of things to see and to do, and that's where we make the most money. However, we've been touring a lot and I'm used to traveling in all kinds of settings. We've even traveled to other continents once.

    5. Who is in charge here? Do I respect them, fear them, both?

    We have four hierarchs elected for life, one for each of the gods, whom they represent. We also have an assembly of representatives from all parts of the peninsula. All are respected, especially the hierarchs, whose descendants automatically belong to the upper class. However, they don't usually rule the city and the peninsula as well as we would like them to, but I suppose it's the same everywhere.

    6. How do I show who I am in the way I dress? What is comfortable? Will I endure discomfort for the sake of looking good or looking powerful?

    I usually dress casually and comfortably, as we all do in the band. We don't dress to show off, even Xodull, although we have the money to do so. Unlike some other people, we never forgot how we started.

    7. Where do the things I own come from? Do I worry about getting more?

    Most of the things I own are made in the peninsula, although there are quite a few, including some of my surgical tools, that are imported from other continents. We physicians use obsidian scalpels instead of metal ones because they cut better and do not rot. However, there's not much obsidian in our area, so we have to get it from another continent and transported here by sail.

    8. What is delicious to me? What do I consider unworthy of consumption?

    What I have a hard time to get used to is that people here love eating poultry. In my culture, birds are sacred and mustn't be eaten, as the gods see the world through their eyes. In my family, we usually eat pork or mutton, along with vegetables, maize or buckwheat. Orlêzh has a very diverse cuisine and people come from all over the world to taste it.

    9. What are my most prized possessions? Do I hoard anything? Do I have so much of anything that I care little if I must give it away?

    The objects I prize the most and always take with me are my surgical tools, my remedies and the cithar my brother made for me just before I joined the band. Pretty much everything else are things I could do without.

    10. Who do I consider to be unlike me? Are their differences charming or alarming?

    During our tour on other continents, we came across people who hid their women to the world and refused to believe and to teach even basic science facts, because they thought the gods told them to. It was frightening, because I knew the gods wouldn't demand such a thing, as both men and women created the world or result from it, and the world itself works according to some simple laws the gods created and made the people intelligent enough to find. What would be the use of so big a brain, if that were not the case?
    Other people not so unlike me but unlike humans in general are the ships. They managed to build a society without government of any kind, they never fight, even when their respective humans do, and they put everyone, human or ship, before themselves, which I would like more humans did.

    11. Am I in control of my own actions and the happenings around me? What or whom do I believe in?

    I think we are pretty much in control of what we do. We are smart enough to think about the consequences, even if most people don't.
    In Orlêzh, we believe in two gods and two goddesses who created the world together. As a consequence, many things go by four. There are four hierarchs, for example. We are also four in our band, as is the case in most.
    My ancestors and cousins from the other continents believe that the world was laid as an egg by a primordial bird who still watches the world through the eyes of birds. In my family, we believe that the primordial egg contained the gods, which are different forms of the primordial bird, and made the world with the remains of the egg after they hatched.

  3. Okay, now I totally want to write that scene. The "instance in which a petty squabble led to something seriously bad". I can see it answering many of your questions such as how Lanuz would have dealt with that situation (he'd be the reluctant leader who eventually steps up to save the village in the end,) why Lanuz is highly regarded in his group (mainly because of his innate leadership abilities,) as well as a number of other questions you brought up. I probably don't have the time at the moment to do that, but the fact that your questions brought all of that to mind is just great. This is really the meat of the workshop I've been waiting for and I'm really excited. Here I've had it in my head that I've been going too far into detail, when in reality I should have been coming up with more detail. I see now that my problem was focus. I was focusing on history, but not necessarily Lanuz's personal history.

    So, to answer some of your questions (and I know your goal was just to get me thinking about those questions, but here are the answers anyways).

    Yes, I am going for a sort of medieval england-y aspect.

    Again, I see Lanuz, at this stage at least, as the reluctant hero. He's a nice guy, and he'll take on any responsibility he needs to, but he is also somewhat resentful that he has to. Eventually, this aspect will shift and Lanuz will become the leader he was meant to be.

    As above, my goal is to show that Lanuz is a natural leader. There are certain people who others just flock to. When they talk, others listen. This is Lanuz. At least, that's my goal. It's the way he acts in the face of crisis really. He takes control. He does what needs to be done regardless of what he feels.

    My concept of the clothing and/or gear that is typical for the people of the watch is sort of a hodge-podge of different types of armor and clothing. Lanuz would wear something like a chain mail tunic, (some kind of metal, steel or something) reinforced leather gloves, a shoulder guard on his off side. Something like that.

    After thinking about it a bit, I think you're definitely right about Lanuz being lucky to eat meat. I guess my idea was that with the protection of the watch, and the fact that the village is somewhat hidden within its valley, that they have been able to somewhat thrive. The village itself is self sufficient. They farm and raise livestock for their own population so these things are somewhat common. Still, I guess the whole roasted lamb meal would be a bit of a treat for him.

    Oh, the Reijak. I haven't said much about them. They're not an inferior race. In fact they are very similar in terms of culture to Lanuz's people. Of course, there are minor differences, but the two races have lived in somewhat close proximity for many generations so naturally their cultures have somewhat evolved to be somewhat similar. Again though, it's the differences that each side takes note of. Considering the two races history with each other, wars and the like, they aren't on the greatest terms. Currently they are in a relative state of peace, but things are starting to worsen. As for whether they will show up in the future, I think they should, but I haven't decided exactly how/when.

    I wouldn't say the watch sees the villagers as lucky. They are respectful of their efforts. I think the motivation for the watch to keep protecting the village is just that. They respect the people to a certain extent that it is worth putting their life on the line for them. At the same time, I think Lanuz cannot respect when people are selfish.

    And finally, onto Order. You've made a great point. I see this as a kind of religion. So who preaches it? I guess I have to work on that aspect. As far as my concept for it. It's pretty basic. The idea is that everything is measured in states of Order or Chaos. Naturally, the people who believe in this have personified those two concepts. They would say that "Order will reign over the land" rather than "the land will be in a state of order." As for the current state of affairs, I think depending on who you ask some will agree that Orders hold on the land is slipping. That Chaos is beginning to rear its ugly head. Lanuz still has hope that Order will win out. But he doubts. Obviously this completely changes in the future. Chaos has entirely taken over and almost everyone has given up hope that Order will ever be seen again. Naturally, they don't really see it as a religion anymore and it is an oddity to them when Lanuz does things like toasts to Order.

  4. Oh, forgot the most important thing. The Rune Sword. There's a whole story about how the Sword of Power was first found, its first owner, and how he took possession of it. He was a great war chief and he was gifted with this powerful blade. The concept of the three virtues required to wield it come directly from the fact that the original owner had these three virtues. With this new found power he was able to unite the land in a great era of peace for many generations. Now, when he eventually died no one, not even his decendents, were able to wield the sword. So the runescribers secreted it away and made a placeholder blade, insribing it with powerful runes which tell the story of the Sword of Power. This blade was handed down to the decendents of the war chief all the way to Lanuz. Of course, at this point separated by hundreds of generations, the secrets of the Rune Sword have been all but lost. Almost no one is able to read the runes, and the runescribers themselves have not been heard of for a very long time. What happens in the story is that Lanuz eventually learns the secrets of the Rune Sword and this helps him to find the Sword of Power.

  5. Khajidu,

    These answers are fine. I'll have complete thoughts to you tomorrow.

  6. Colin,

    I'm glad you've found your way to an exciting place. I'm not going to ask you to write the scene for me in which something went seriously bad, though. What I'm looking for are ways to use Lanuz's personal history with his world to judge the new world in which he finds himself, so you don't find yourself describing it from your own POV by accident :-). Have you considered that Lanuz might be very upset to wake up and find his arm replaced by a bionic prosthesis? Might he struggle with this before accepting it, and perhaps liken it to the stone attached to the Reijak (i.e. a concept he does understand)? Giving him an internal conflict along with the external conflict will deepen your story and give you more to work with. It will also enhance the sense of shock at the change of worlds.

  7. On the timeline that Jasmine came from, there are quite a few people with engineered abilities. The idea that I'm toying with at the moment is that the genetic engineering companies were limited by laws that stopped them from experimenting on people or most animals. So they engineered artificial humans, effectively assembling the human genome from scratch. Then they conducted all sorts of experiments in engineering various abilities as quickly as possible, before the law ever caught up with the advances in science.

    Unethical? Oh, yes. But there are some people who don't let things like ethics stand between them and money.

    I'm planning several...hmmm, sub-species isn't quite the right word, but it will do for now. There are the Altered - they look human (or mostly human), but they have extra abilities like telepathy. There are Beasts - hybrids of human and animal DNA, they look like both parents (minotaurs, for example). There are Maenads - Beasts where the engineering didn't quite work out as planned, man-beasts quite savage and insane. And there are the Biomechs - they don't look human, they are biological machines with human awareness (if required for their function).

    Collectively, they are called Goblins (it would have been Genies, as a word-play on Genetics, but the marketing department pointed out that calling them Goblins reinforced the view that they aren't really human - and there are laws against selling humans, and since this is done for profit...).

    But they look so human (at least, some of them do). A civil rights movement for the engineered starts. It ends with the Goblin Wars. And the Goblin Wars end with the Plague Years, when the human race is so busy trying to survive a pandemic that there ain't no energy left for fighting. The Goblins win their freedom (partly by default, but that's okay).

    Jasmine grows up in one of the enclaves where the Altered (they don't call themselves Goblins) are the norm. It's not a ghetto – Jasmine's family are quite wealthy, since telepaths have a certain unfair advantage when it comes to business deals. Jasmine's view is that her abilities are “normal”, and when they don't work properly any more, she sees herself as crippled.

    With Ben – the idea is that he died, and she tried to use the time machine to rewrite history. This turned out very badly...but I haven't decided exactly how it turned out badly. But, if I expand that new idea I had about timelines influencing the nearest timelines, then undoing his death doesn't just affect her timeline. She could seriously screw up a whole bunch of timelines with one rescue mission.

    Is that a bad thing? After all, she did have the intention of saving her first love from death, and no one else was supposed to get hurt.

    Well, time travel was outlawed in Jasmine's timeline because her grandmother (inventor of the time machine) travelled back to witness a Great Historical Event. But a Great Historical Event is a moment when timelines split into different future histories. From the POV of a time traveller, history is trying to be all possible outcomes at once. And the mere presence of a time traveller could be enough to tip the balance.

    And Jasmine's parents had to locate the second time machine her grandmother built, in order to prevent just such an unbalanced future history. Their reward for success was that they got to guard the resultant gateway between their timeline and another one. (It is this timeline that the Goddess of Justice comes from – it is what I'm thinking of as a nexus timeline – kind of a crossroads of reality where both science and magic are equally valid. The Gods of this timeline rarely take a direct hand in events, but sometimes...).

    So Jasmine grew up knowing just how dangerous the whole time travel thing was. And she took the risk anyway.

    More soon...

  8. Khajidu,

    Thank you so much for your answers. I find them very interesting. It's good to know that you know so much about your protagonist and your world; I think now the trick is getting this information to show through in your opening scene.

    The way you describe Tsumw is essentially as a rich and powerful man, a doctor, who happens to play in a band. How old is he? Is he retired from medical practice and that's why he's in the band? Is the band a hobby for him? Or does he not practice medicine regularly?

    He also appears to have different beliefs from some others around him. Is he a native of the place where he currently lives, or of another place? If another place, how did he come to be a man of power where he is? Is Orlezh a multicultural city? (This stuff need not necessarily come out in your opening scene, but it could be helpful later on.)

    At this point I'm going to go and make notations based on our discussion on the original piece you gave me, and ask you to rewrite it. I'll try to have that request to you today or tomorrow. As usual, I'm open for any questions you might have.

  9. David,

    I can always count on you to have some interesting new complications in your plot! This is cool stuff, and I wonder how you can perhaps hint at some of it in your opening scene. Tell me, is the issue of Goblins etc. going to be a major element of your plot? Which is to say, is it something you think is worth mentioning in passing in your opening? For example, is she singled out for her telepathic abilities when she gets punished? I would encourage you to try to figure out for yourself how her abilities got broken, and what happened in the time paradox, because your readers will be counting on you to provide this information before the end of the story.

    Anyway, I'll try to keep these things in mind as I prepare your rewrite recommendations. Any further information you can give me would be helpful, and I welcome questions.

  10. Oh, and by the way, David,

    Jasmine's voice seems quite Young Adult to me. So consider that angle, depending on your intended story content.

  11. Juliette,

    The band formed when the members were teenagers and Tsumw was attending university to learn medicine. In the beginning it was just a hobby, but it kinda took over. Despite this, Tsumw is still an active doctor (he is more into psychiatry) and is alternatively the band's doctor (during tours) and a hospital doctor (between tours). Tsumw is about 50 (equivalent to 40 on Earth as years are shorter there). He was born in Orlêzh and has two grandparents coming from another continent, which accounts for his somewhat different beliefs. Orlêzh is quite multicultural, and people from all over the world live there. It's also one of the biggest ports in the world.

  12. Jasmine spent her last years at school in that nexus timeline next door to her home universe. One of her school friends, Chariss, was a fugitive with engineered abilities. When the bounty hunters tracked Chariss down, they used a neural disruptor on her (it's like being drunk, without all the fun of getting into that condition in the first place) to try to stop her from using her abilities on them.

    In the chaos that followed, Chariss hit Jasmine with her ability. Now, it may be possible for Chariss to undo what she did, but she has to work out EXACTLY how she did it, first (curse that neural disruptor!). And although I haven't fully-defined Chariss' ability, the fact that she can nullify, delete or surpress biological functions means that it's not an area for casual experimentation.

    Her father's ability? Genopattern-specific polymorph. Which means that he absorbs DNA (usually by eating it, although he can absorb through the skin, too), and he can then shape-shift into an exact genetic copy of whatever creature donated the DNA. Complete with their memories (how's THAT for a Universal Translator?)

    But it takes a lot of energy to shapeshift, and so they get very, VERY hungry...

  13. The issue of Goblins a major plot element? Not so much in this story, though it will be a greater point in her father's story.

    The time paradox? Yes, since she is being punished for it, I need to decide EXACTLY what she did. Even if she doesn't remember it, the enquiring minds of readers have the right to know.

    I'm glad you picked up on the age of Jasmine's voice. In the original version, I had her arguing with her journal in the opening scene - her birthday is Feb 29, and since that date doesn't exist three years out of four, she can't convince her wristcomp journal that today is her 21st birthday (though I may lower her age by a couple of years).

  14. David,
    Lots of interesting stuff; seems consistent enough with the genetic engineering origin. I really don't think Jasmine sounds 21; you could easily lower her age to 19, or even as far as 17, depending on your plans for the story.

  15. David,

    Here's a question. Were Jasmine's abilities engineered, or just a result of breeding? Be aware that you appear to have chosen a scenario in which the gamete cells of the individuals are genetically altered in addition to the somatic cells (otherwise these things wouldn't be passed down). If the engineering companies were originally doing this stuff for the sake of money, I think that would have to be a considerable oversight on their part. They wouldn't want their "product" to be available "for free," would they?

  16. Wrai is a bastard. His father denied him and his mother help when it was desperately needed and even beat Wrai when he asked for it. His mother died because Wrai couldn't manage enough money to care for her when she was ill--so yeah he doesn't like his father and it affects his attitude toward all nobles.

    His wife died when Sharista was three, two years before the start of the story while Wrai was gone--gambling which isn't something he does for fun principally but he's always felt guilty that he was gone when she needed him. Sharista's cared for by friends but this is something that is a constant worry to Wrai and he goes there whenever he can. He's convinced that on some level that something will happen to his daughter while he's gone so finding some way to have her with him is a big issue.

    Police as such are a very recent -- even modern-- development. They don't exist in this world although most rulers have guards of some kind that serve at least somewhat as police. Penalties for lawbreaking are extremely harsh and with no appeal: beheading for murder, castration for rape, losing a hand for theft of anything worth more than a few farthings. It's a world with both good and bad sides.

    Southron is rather like southern Italy--what's not to like? :-) Good food, nice weather, some nice cities--and plenty of gambling.

  17. Ah, Juliette. You do get me thinking.

    I made Jasmine's abilities the result of breeding, simply because I wanted her to have the abilities of both of her parents.

    So, how do I make abilities inheritable when the motive is profit? How does a biocorp give away it's product?

    My thoughts - No profit-driven organisation is gonna give away it's product.

    They assert legal ownership of the intellectual copyright on the genetic re-design. They have their designs on your genome, and you are gonna pay for it.

    Same goes for the children of the Altered. There may be no cost to the biocorp as far as installation of the Altered genetic code, but they still have to pay royalties on that imporved genome. A win-win from the biocorp POV - the Altered breed new payers-of-royalties at no cost to the company.