NaNoWriMo

November is National Novel Writing Month here in good ol’ ‘MURRICA.

Thus NaNoWriMo.

Perhaps you have heard of this. I had not until a few days ago. So I went over to nanowrimo.org and signed up. If you don’t know what the deal is, basically you write a 50k word novel during the month of November.

It sounds like a lot of fun and frustration. So obviously I’m all over it!

I wonder if you would join me? This blog is dedicated to writing science fiction and getting better at it, so why not try to write a short novel? I think the goal is attainable, but will still be quite a challenge.

I’ve already been planning my story, and I can’t wait to get it down.

It will have spaceships, and armies, and alien civilizations!

But I digress.

I chose to do this because it will be a good chance for me to write on a daily basis for a month. If you split up 50k words into 30 days, you have to write about 1667 words a day. That adds up to quite a bit of time.

Quite a bit of time spent writing.

And when you spend time writing, you spend time improving your writing abilities. And that’s what we’re all after right? We want our readers to like our writing, so that they will want us to write more for them. We want to uphold the sacred trust between author and reader.

Plus we want to write cool Sci Fi that doesn’t suck.

So if you haven’t signed up yet, hurry up and do so! Write a novel with me during November, and let’s share the experience of doing something awesome.

Advertisements

Fishing for Ideas

So I’m sitting here trying to think of a post for this week.

Last week was awesome because I got to interview Kenneth Barker, so this week seemed like kind of a drag. So I did what I always do after I have a hectic but productive week.

I went fishing.

This is nothing new, I go fishing once or twice a week. It’s a good way to clear my head and get frustrated with fish instead of people. But it also gives me some time to think about my writing. I’ve been working on a short story for about a month now and I can’t for the life of me get it ended. It isn’t even a long short story (..?) but it’s packed with cool stuff, so it has to end PERFECTLY.
And fishing helped me work it out.

Now I’m not telling all of you to go fishing per say, although I highly recommend it, but there has to be some unwind time. A lot of us indie authors spend way too much time working. I understand that being a writer is a lot of work; I write every week. And that writing is done on top of other jobs. But if you spend all of your time working and promoting and tweeting and whatever else, you will go crazy. Plus, the threat of ‘writer’s block’ looms on every corner.

Now when you go fishing, you have to worry about casting, what lure or bait you will use, oh and don’t forget to pick the perfect spot. So you’re out there casting, you get a bite, you reel in the fish, OH MY GERD ITS HUGE, and you get it in the ice chest, or let it go, whatever, and all of a sudden…

You get the idea for a killer story.
About mutant fishermen.
I’m reminded of an episode of The Big Bang Theory where Sheldon can’t figure out a theory and takes up a job at The Cheesecake Factory. He comes to an epiphany when he drops a a tray of plates and sees the problem in a whole new light.

What if you need to see your story in a new light? Go Fishing. What if your story needs a killer ending? Go fishing. What if you are going to explode if you have to write one more stinking word?!?!!?!

Go fishing.

And like I said before, it doesn’t have to be fishing. Go laser tagging, out to a fancy restaurant, to a baseball game, for a walk. There are lots of things to do.

Maybe your trip down the street, or down the river, will turn into something you wouldn’t have achieved in a month’s worth of work.

Interview with Kenneth Barker

Twitter is a wonderful medium.

Through it you can see the thoughts and dreams of others, their aspirations and hopes…

Or you can meet very interesting people!

Meet Kenneth Barker, a film maker and writer from the UK who writes and directs, you guessed it, Science Fiction! I was able to ask him a few questions (some serious. Others…well silly. Or awesome. Use whichever adjective you prefer) and here are the results.

Spoilers: he’s not really a sports fan and he has the most interesting pick for a starship captain. There are links to his work throughout the interview and at the end, please go check it out!You can also find him on twitter: @KennethBarker1, and at his film studio website Water on the Rock http://www.wotr.co.uk

Here’s a video detailing the making of his latest film, then the interview.

Enjoy!

Will: Tell us a little bit about yourself

Kenneth: I had the best possible childhood in my opinion – firm boundaries set by my parents for behaviour but total freedom to play, read and discover the world around me. When I was primary school (around 5 years old) they were dumping old books (around 1972ish)  I got a small green box with that lovely waxy-feel paper; it had fairy stories in and I particularly remember one being about Jack Frost. The illustrations were fantastically detailed. Of course from that moment I was hooked to a life of creativity. In 1990 I saw Robocop II and came away unimpressed and thought ‘maybe I could do better.’  Shortly after I produced my very first short film which was loosely inspired by Beowulf. That film was good enough to get me into film school in Leeds, West Yorkshire, UK and I’ve never looked back since.

WF: I’ve watched your trailers and I’m reading your novel right now, and I have to say that I’m very impressed with your work. What do you put into your Sci Fi writing on a weekly or even daily basis?

KB: Thanks for taking the time to look at my work. I was out of paid work for a while in the late 90’s after leaving film school (heard that before!) and the big production companies were all saying “great screenplay Kenneth….but it’s not for us…ever considered using it for paper mache!!”  That made me realise I should be making films for myself because Digital Video (DV) cameras were exploding onto the scene. Costs had plummeted so now the only deciding factor was ‘do I have the drive to do this or just remain an also-ran.’  I have story ideas constantly – I call it “mental diarreah.” The really good ideas recur and are jotted down on a near daily basis. Once I get the initial spark for a screenplay I will spend weeks intensively researching it and planning the narrative. The actually screen writing process from there usually only takes a few weeks because of the detailed plotting and preparation beforehand. The novel for Kingdom has the advantage of me already producing the film and having a feel for what I want the backstory to be. Duration-wise, the writing was mostly completed in a six month block with a typical writing day being from 7:30am – 2pm Monday to Friday.


WF: What sort of Science Fiction and Fantasy has shaped your love of the genre?

KB: The old trusty BBC infrequently (in the days just before VHS and DVD) would have “and now a season of science fiction films…” All the classics such as Forbidden Planet, War of The Worlds, This Island Earth, The Day the Earth Stood Still, When Worlds Collide, Them – heck, I’m giddying just typing this list. Those films were hugely formative to me. I also read some cracking science fiction texts and fell totally in love with the work of illustrator Chris Foss. He produced conceptual work on the originally planned 70s version of Dune, Superman and Alien amongst others. I have been to the end of the universe and back with Foss’ work.
WF: What is your favorite part of being a film maker?

KB: Warm smile stretches across Kenneth’s face.

The initial spark – it becomes “this is a story I have to tell. But I have no budget! Well think of a way around it and just tell a great story.”  Once I have the kernel of an idea it usually starts my brain firing off in all sorts of directions. Ideas/concepts, bits of dialogues, story beats become attracted to the central premise like iron filings to a big magnet. Some stories start writing “themselves!”   I also get very excited in post-production when all the hubbub of production has cleared – I can focus on finding the story through editing and adding the necessary visuals. It is a mesmerizing evolution. I implore anyone reading this, who has idea the inkling of a notion to make their movie, just do it.


WF: How long did it take you to make your film?

 KB: 2 years and 10 months for On The Shoulders Of Giants (youtube channel http://www.youtube.com/user/OTSOG2012)  I don’t want to go through that duration again any time soon. I live as a “struggling artist” but the toll of sacrificing so much to get the film made must be a considered decision. In my mind it was worth it though; I’m immensely proud of what my production team achieved on our “femto” budget.

WF: What is your favorite film of all time?

KB: The Blues Brothers still kills me. Close Encounters. Hilary and Jackie tears me up. I salute Armageddon. What Dreams May Come – oh! Moby Dick – poetic adventure. Coen’s True Grit – bravura work across the board. Barry Lyndon – totally captivating. This could become a very long list….


WF: What are some of your favorite television series?

KB: Do you know anybody that didn’t like original Star Trek as a kid! Space 1999 then a raft of UK non genre stuff. X-Files had an appeal along with Project Blue Book. I stopped watching TV around 2008 and only use my widescreen for DVDs and Blu-Rays.
WF: If you were stuck inside of a spaceship for two years on a scientific mission, who would be your preferred captain?

KB: Ahab for his determination.

WF: Favorite food?

KB: If I’m working on stuff on a Friday – Barker’s (nearly) World famous Burger night with a beer. Saturday is a curry. I love cooking. A good roast methinks. I know my way around a kitchen. Diets – sorry, what are they??
WF: Words uttered at the sight of a dying star? (from a safe distance of course)

KB: Wow! Thank you. Joni Mitchell said “we are stardust” and I tend to believe her.


WF: Favorite fictional weapon?

KB: The photon torpedo cures most evils. My third film Catalina: A New Kind of Superhero featured a weapon that could boil off a planets atmosphere. Pretty despotic I would say.
WF: Could enough Dragons take down a star ship?

KB: Cool concept Will 🙂  Yes – and I have a pretty cool story in which something like that occurs.
WF: If you could build a robot to do one thing perfectly, what would it do?

KB: Tidy and decorate my house. Two concepts that are not nearly as interesting as creating something with 3D software or a word processor.
WF: Favorite football club?

KB: Over my head sir. I don’t play it or watch it. I will root for Brazil at the next World Cup mainly because they are so colourful and passionate – the football might get a look in too.
WF: If you had unlimited money to make a film, what would the story be and who would you cast as the lead role?

KB: Assuming the ‘limited money’ is nothing: Cast a professional actor looking for a great showreel piece. Some actors may baulk at not getting paid and I wish them well while they “rest” between paying gigs. With a little savvy – digital effects can be used at very low cost to enhance the story. I’d like to riff on something by Jules Verne perhaps or a Woody Allen style sci-fi piece??  Damn; so many ideas and not enough time. Thank you Will.

Some links to Kenneth’s work and press:

Yorkshire Evening Post – http://www.yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk/news/latest-news/top-stories/divine-inspiration-for-leeds-man-s-homage-to-1950s-sci-fi-classics-1-4928997

Kingdom – http://www.wotr.co.uk/page15.html

On the Shoulders of Giants: http://www.wotr.co.uk/page18.html

OTSOG Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/On-The-Shoulders-of-Giants/383469958384829

OTSOG youtube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/OTSOG2012

Musical Connections

“If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.” – Albert Einstein

So for those of you who don’t know: I’m a musician.

I started as a music major but ended up with a minor in it, I have been active in church music for over a decade, not to mention various jazz and rock ensembles. Which means only one thing:

I’m what some would call a music lover.

So obviously, when I write stories there is music involved. I was hesitant to reveal this, but I think it will do more good than harm. I’ve already disclosed that i watch television when I write sometimes, and television is full of music. It permeates our world, so why shouldn’t it permeate our writing? When I write certain genres of fiction, in my head they are linked with different genres of music. For example, when I write cyberpunk, 80’s synth pop is in my head. When I write epic space opera, I hear Queen’s ‘Flash’. If I’m writing some sort of battle sequence I usually have Iron Maiden’s ‘The Trooper’ playing in my head. If I’m writing some sort of serious scene where maybe two lovers are speaking, I have Miles Davis’ ‘Blue in Green’ going on.

By the way, Miles Davis’ album “Kind of Blue” is excellent.

Anyway, what if you knew what music would be playing when your story is made into a film? Or to make it a little more useful, what do you see when you listen to music?

1. Close your eyes when you listen to music

Try this sometime. Just listen to music and see what your mind sees. Then write it down. Maybe you have a story based on a song that has been dying to come out of you but you didn’t know how to release it.

2. Watch film with the intent of learning where the music fits

I was watching The Empire Strikes Back last night and, as always, John Williams’ score was excellent. And well placed. And invoked emotions and suspense. So what kind of music would be playing during your story? Jazz? An orchestral score? A Rock Opera? None? If you can learn to let music feed your scene, your writing will become almost effortless. Almost 🙂 For example, Watch Star Wars and notice the rise and fall of the music. Or watch Top Gun and notice that there is a driving rock song during a high speed dogfight. Or Cowboy Bebop with some…ahem…bebop music playing during a chase or fight scene.

3. Listen to more music

Maybe you only listen to one type of music. STOP IT. Listen to more. If you learn to listen to all different genres of music, you will earn to recognize it in other mediums such as film or anime or whatever. Then you can utilize your skills of observation and write stories that are more likely to attach themselves to readers. Readers of science fiction are also watchers of science fiction. They make associations with music and genre as well. Learn what kinds of music to write to, and I guarantee connections that resonate.

If you want an example of the intertwining of music and sci fi in literature, I would suggest picking up Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’. Laced with references to music, it is sort of the epitome of what I’m talking about. He obviously heard music in his head all of the time. I’ll leave you with a quote from him.

“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” – Aldous Huxley

Comic Relief

Who likes the jokes?!?!?!
I likes the jokes!!!!!

 

Ok, let’s do something that’s a little more fun than being a ‘serious’ writer.

I tend to find the comedy in all situations. To quote my father, “Life is too serious to be taken seriously.” Therefore, I try to fit comedy into all of my writing, and consequently the rest of my life.

We see this all over Science Fiction too. Comedy permeates such episodes of Star Trek as ‘The trouble with Tribbles”, all of the Star Wars movies, Doctor Who, and the list goes on and on and on….

Comedy is what makes something likeable, loveable.

Case in point: Firefly.

Firefly has dramatic moments, political undertones, and all sorts of commentary on society, but do you know what sticks in my mind about the show?

Jayne’s hat. And Vera. And Mal’s whit.

The funny things.

And it’s no secret that ‘The Big Bang Theory’ is one of my favorite sitcoms. They take scifi comedy to the next level! (you can hate me for that, but the show is really funny and my wife loves it too. As with the card game Citadels…)
So let’s talk about jokes:

1. Make it appropriate

An out of context joke is like watching a train wreck. It’s terrible, but you can’t look away. So use the context to make a good joke. If you’re hero (or anti-hero) is stuck in a dire situation, a joke about a trip to San Francisco is in order. Or about never marrying. Or something like that. It’s funny.

2. Make it accessible

I have a wife, whom I adore. We have several inside jokes. If I make these jokes in my stories, NO ONE WILL KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT. If you have an inside joke with someone, it’s probably not ok for public consumption. Stay away from these things in your writing.
3. Other SciFi is always open for fun!

If you take yourself too seriously, you shouldn’t be an artist. Art, occasionally gets made fun of. Not always in a demeaning way. Take the show Castle. Nathan Fillion is the lead, he was also the lead in the aforementioned Firefly. In a Halloween episode of Castle, he dressed up as his character, Mal Reynolds, and even referenced his role in Firefly. There are several other things he’s done in reference to the show, but you get the idea. If we can learn to reference things in fun and not take it seriously, it will make everything funnier.

4. Make fun of yourself

Make fun of what you’re writing inside of the story. I wrote a terrible novel and in it I make fun of some of the ideas that I present. Because they’re ridiculous! If I can’t make fun of my ridiculous ideas, then they aren’t worth writing down. Learn not to take yourself so seriously. I love hard scifi, but sometimes it gets on my nerves and I have to stop reading or watching. Laughter directed at your own work can be a wonderful thing!

 

I hope this helps you out a little. I know that being able to laugh at myself and other things is a great joy, and it makes me actually like writing. So let’s all start laughing!