Philosophy, History and Inspiration
I enjoy giving reviews as much as I enjoy getting them. Of course, I prefer constructive criticism. Telling me that my story stinks, without telling me why it stinks is thoroughly useless, so far as I’m concerned. After all, how can I make improvements if I don’t learn what I did wrong? I make an effort to follow what I call the PAID system when I give out reviews, and I hope that others will write their reviews somewhat similarly.
To wit –
- P – Positive – You probably won’t take my advice if I tell you your story stinks, right? I try to be positive in my reviews. It’s not as hard as it may seem, for most stories have something to recommend them, whether it’s a new scenario, or an interesting juxtaposition of characters, or even just the act of believably putting together a diverse crew. In general, unless a story is absolutely lifted from somewhere else (e. g. no originality whatsoever), then at least originality can be celebrated.
- A – Accurate – If I am reading five stories about Shran during the Xindi War, I want to be sure that my review accurately reflects your story, and not someone else’s. This usually means that I will cite something specific that caught my eye or I had a question about.
- I – Improvement – I review because I want you to get better.
Even Shakespeare had room for improvement (really, have you ever read The Winter’s Tale?), so recognize that when I tell you that something is unclear, or can be done better, I am telling you this in order to try to help you improve your writing.
- D – Detailed – Like anyone else, I can be pressed for time. I try to give some detail because I know that writers crave it, and I know that I crave it from critics. But I have written things like Great job! if I’m really in a rush. However, the corollary is also true, that I won’t comment on every little bit and I don’t expect a critic to do so as well.
I have been writing for years, actually, but have had a real resurgence lately as I have embraced Star Trek fanfiction. For some reason, the muse really has gotten a hold of me. Which is great, and in particular because the muse was far away for a couple of decades there. When I wrote in High School, it was not Trek at all; it was angst-filled teenaged stuff. Then in Law School a friend suggested I write a mystery. I found it exceptionally difficult to write (they are still rather tough for me) but I did get a character name out of it – Shelby Pike. At the time, I didn’t even think of her as having the same last name as the Star Trek Captain in The Cage. I just saw her as an African-American ballerina.
Then in about 2002 I started writing in blank books, and filled some of them and it was a lot less angst-filled and some of it, I thought, was pretty good but I again ran out of gas. But I had some more character names – HD Avery, a hipster with a hidden confidence issue; Sheilagh Bernstein; a kind of surrogate for myself, Dan Beauchaine, a hunter and survivalist; and Greg Shaw, a kind of animals whisperer who in that set of tales was an escaped slave. I also had a basic time travel premise but the tech was somewhat overwhelming although I did come up with Stem Cell Growth Accelerator.
I was inspired again by, perhaps, an unlikely event. I attended my thirtieth High School reunion and a man told me he had liked me, back in the day. I had not known anything about that at the time. He was (is) a pleasant guy and what I took away from that was not a loss of appreciation for my husband, but rather a thought of what if?. And so the idea of Doug was born (and, yes, the real guy’s name is Doug).
I am also somewhat interested in the subconscious and dreams, and so the idea of dreams and Doug kind of took hold and suddenly I was off and running again. Then, of course, there is the idea of waking, e. g. fallout. What happens when the fairy tale ends? What happens when the happy couple ride off into the sunset and he doesn’t pick up his dirty socks, or she becomes shrewish or their children become troubled? I have found that consequences and fallout are some of my absolute favorite things to write.
Inspirations for Original Species
Original species come from all over the place. Admittedly, in some of my earliest works, the species were mainly throwaways, with few details. My philosophy is different now.
Calafans come from a lot of my own meditations on aging, as that alien race’s signs of aging tend to be the reverse of our own (this also plays on the title Reversal, which is where they first appear). The concept of our elders looking young to them, and our younger people looking elder sparked a lot of ideas on interpersonal relationships and attraction.
Witannen actually come from the earlier time travel story I wrote. I had had the idea for a species with symbiotic floral appendages in lieu of hair for a while, but initially they were lavender in color and their torsos were much smaller than their legs. The wings are meant to be vestigial, which is the way diving auks seem to be going, evolutionarily speaking. I didn’t originally give them wings and think it is a bit cliched, but I suppose I am committed. I get out of this with Otra D’Angelo as she is only half-Witannen.
Daranaeans, on the other hand, come from an article in the newspaper on the thylacine, also known as the marsupial wolf. At first, I just had a scrap of paper on it and all that I had written was smart kangaroos. But I did not want Aussie hoppers and instead wanted to focus more on the idea of wolves and dogs. One of the chief characteristics of wolves (and dogs as well) is the pack mentality, with its idea of rather rigid hierarchies. This began to inform ideas about how Daranaeans treated their females, and a caste system was developed. Daranaeans, like dogs, also see more or less just in black and white, not so much a function of their eyes but instead a function of their thinking. There are few subtleties, so Daranaeans end up with certain policies and laws being taken to their extremes. As marsupials, they also have pouches and pouchlings, and various rituals surrounding the three initial stages of life: conception, birth and pouch emergence.
More inspiration stories can be found in the Mechanics category.
1. Don’t put limits on yourself. Make your heroine fat, your hero bald.
2. Put limits on yourself. Outline, at least a little. It’s not school, but this isn’t utterly free-form jazz, either (for the most part). Don’t give over to too much weirdness.
3. Write every day, even if you think it’s lousy, so long as you write. Note: this includes blogging, editing, rewriting, and website stuff. But get in front of a keyboard and move your fingers a lot.
4. If your work is unpopular, that only means you haven’t found your readership yet. Every yin has its yang.
5. Bring paper or a laptop or a smartphone (or some combination thereof) wherever you go.
6. People watch, and pay particular attention to dialogue.
7. Research!!! This also counts as writing. Don’t guess whether Mozart owned a chihuahua. Know the answer, and be confident of your source(e).
8. When research fails, make stuff up. You’re a writer, you do that.
9. Leave stuff to readers’ imaginations. Tell them your male main character is tall, not his actual height, unless that’s necessary for something or other.
10. Set everything aside for a while before editing it. You’re too close to it when you first write it. This will help you to spot errors, but also will assist with listening, again, to your inner voice.