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Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Bones

Please welcome guest blogger Julia Barrett

Back in 1986, a book was released by Shambhala Press - Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg. My sister urged me to read the book. She thought it would help me jumpstart my writing career. I never did read the book, but I love the title. The visual is great - writing down the bones. When I create a work of science fiction, I view my story as a human body and I begin with the bones, the skeleton, so to speak. Once the structure is in place, I begin to fill in - flesh out the story, or body of the work, and imbue my characters with heart and soul.

I don't follow many rules when I write; I guess I'm a bit of an author/anarchist. But science fiction requires rules - without rules, a work of science fiction can quickly devolve into nonsense.

My first rule of science fiction - abide by the rules of my own creation. For instance, if I create a universe where successful interplanetary travel is only possible for three-eyed, psychic, hairless genetically enhanced warthogs, then I can't send a frog into space and expect my readers to believe the frog will survive. *Unless…at some point in time, additional information becomes available to the inhabitants of my universe, information that enhances their knowledge and abilities and allows them to safely send a frog into space.

My second rule relates to my first. I avoid resorting to Deus ex machine, or basically, putting the onus on God, or a plot device, to solve a problem. There may be miracles, but they must arise from the very marrow of the story. Have I put my skeleton together in such a fashion that miracles might be possible? If I have, a reader won't mind the rare miraculous intervention.

Rule Three - I try not to stray too far from my comfort zone. Small changes or tweaks to society as we know it are often the most effective way to make a story credible. Technology evolves and human societies change, but if the characters keep their core of humanity, readers will find it easier to identify with them and the story will resonate. It is especially in science fiction romance that I want my characters to deal with familiar emotional issues - issues of the heart, love, loss, trust, betrayal, good, and evil.

Rule Four - I set the stage, position the players, and I must make both the stage and the characters feel real. The first person who has to believe what I write is me. If I don't believe my words, nobody else will. I'm not a techy, but I am a big reader of mainstream science fiction. My favorite books are character-driven. They may contain technical details, but none are so complicated that I either feel like an idiot or worse, can't follow the storyline. I like to keep my technical details minimal and focus on my characters and their actions.

Rule Five - hard and fast. It's not what you think. J This is my hard and fast rule and I will not stray. Never overwhelm a reader with too many characters all at once. Never overwhelm a reader with too many characters with weird names who are hard to differentiate. If a reader can't keep my characters and their individual roles straight, the truth is, I probably can't either.

Okay…done. Like I said, I really am a bit of an anarchist, but no matter how far my characters stray from the world as I know it, they still follow the rules - even if the rule is no rules at all.

Julia Barrett: I write erotic science fiction, paranormal and contemporary romances for Resplendence Publishing, Siren, Logical Lust, Evernight Publishing, and Cobblestone Press. In my other life, I write nonfiction. I attended the University of Iowa as a creative writing major. Later I returned to school to become a Registered Nurse. I've been a hospice nurse for twelve years. I am proud to admit that I was born and raised in Iowa, but I've lived, camped, hiked, traveled all over the United States and Israel. I am married with three children, a new puppy, two cats, two talking birds and two very lucky koi.

Daughters of Persephone, Books III and IV, Reborn and Red Demon

Book Three: Reborn

A thousand years have passed since the Empress Aja Bokinan and her consort, Kyr Aram, settled on Calen. As the legend foretold, a great evil has arisen. Black Frocks scour the planets, searching out women, children and even men with a trace of the Royal Blood, sacrificing them to their dark god.

When they see her mahogany hair and gray eyes, Issa Bokinan's family flees the village for the safety of the mountains, but even that is not far enough. It is up to The Red Demon, Tem, to hide they young Empress away in the past, teaching her to use her powers, grooming her for the day whens he will face the Black Frocks and her own death.

But The Red Demon has a plan within a plan. She's meddled in the gene pool, producing a man with the powers Women of the Blood only dream of. She wants Kane Tirol for her own, but Kane, a Calen Man, wants nothing to do with The Red Demon. He is bonded to Issa Bokinan, and not even time will keep them apart.

Book Four: Red Demon

There is a reason Tem is called The Red Demon. She does what she wants when she wants. No one controls her. Time and space do not hinder her. Worshiped on ancient Earth as a goddess among many people in many different lands, nobody opposes her, except her own creations, Issa Bokinan and Kane Tirol.

Having left her own daughters behind on Earth as seed stock for future generations, Tem had hoped to make a life with Kane. That is not to be. Rejected, alone and broken, she seeks comfort in the past from the Empress Ya on Persephone, promising to behave and keep her identity a secret. Tem is hard-pressed to control her worst impulses when she's caught riding the Empress' prize stallion.

Horse Master, Aytan Kirrae, cannot believe his eyes. A small Red Woman has just ridden off on the stallion named for him, a horse bred for the Empress Ya. He waits for her return, flipping her over his knee, meting out what he thinks will be a kinder punishment than she would receive from the Magistrate. He has no idea the small Red Woman can kill him with a single drop of her blood.

Pulled along to the future against his will, Aytan thinks he's dreaming, until he must share the Blood Bond with Tem to save her life. Once he does, his own life will never be the same.


Anonymous said...

Hi Julia, love this post! I've read and watched Sci-fi all my life. I'm attempting to write my first. Yikes! Anyway, have you hiked the Appalachian trail? Oh, and your books sound great. I'm still addicted to your blog, too. :) Have a great Thursday.

Kimber Leszczuk. said...

I love science fiction. Your rules are excellent tips! Thank you!

Rebecca Zanetti said...

Hi Julia - wonderful post! The rules are great, nicely done. :)

Sharon Hamilton said...

Right to the point, and so true. Natalie's book was the first recommended to me, and it sits proudly on my shelf, skimmed, alas, but not read fully!

Unknown said...

Hi Julia! great post. Love your rules! On rule number 3 - I tried to write a story about elves (Tolkeinesq elves), but couldn't make a character driven story work without introducing human vices. LOL Who wants to read about a bunch of people singing to the trees?

Julia Barrett said...

Oh my gosh, ya'll, we are such scifi geeks! I've written an a story involving alien abduction (not for sex but for the meat market), yet I imbued the alien with the same needs, fears, desires we have. I figure if we ever meet humanoids from another planet no matter their technology or political system, they'll probably suffer the same emotions we do. Think Mr. Spock of Star Trek.

My Daughters series is more space opera. No aliens, just humans thousands of years in our own future and they are still dealing with love and loss and tyrants.

I think some people imagine anything goes in scifi, but that's simply not true. Good scifi has rules and the rules keep it real.

Julia Barrett said...

Oh, Ciara, I've hiked part of the Appalachian trail. Why?

Katalina Leon said...

These are all great rules to follow.
I have all the Daughters of Persephone on my Sony and I'm scared to read them before I finish my Sci-fi WIPs and get discouraged! lol
I absolutely loved "Captured" and I highly recommend it to romance and Sci-fi fans fans alike-it should be a movie!

Pauline said...

What a great blog and great advice, Julia! I did read Writing Down the Bones and it is a great book. LOL! Another early favorite is Becoming a Writer. I do find I get snippets of good stuff from a lot of different books. I fold them into my personal writing brew and discard the advice that doesn't work for me and my process. And just as you said, sometimes you need to know when to let go of the rules and just go. I can fix it later. lol

Julia Barrett said...

Kat - I don't read while I'm working because I don't want to be derivative. I have no doubts about your ability to write a very intriguing SFR!

Pauline - thanks so much! I've heard mixed things about Writing Down the Bones. My sister loved it, a friend thought it was too Zen-ish. I think the concept is great!

Savanna Kougar said...

Hi Julia, author-anarchist... luv that term and the possibilities evoked by it.

I always stay within the parameters of the sci fi/fantasy world I create. But, just like life, things change and strange things happen.

I agree about character names. My eyes cross if there are too many long unusual names in a story. I do adore eccentric and unique names, however, and always try to give my characters names that fit their personality, their world, but are easy on the eye.

Excellent bloggie!

Pauline said...

Yeah, a bit Zen. LOL! It was one of those books that helped me get more disciplined about writing every day and then I moved on from it. I don't have time now to write on anything that isn't my book. (grin)

Julia Barrett said...

Hi Savanna - thanks! I agree, things changed and if you've got your setting right, change works. Yeah...I am an anarchist. Sigh.

Pauline - there is so little time and I have to spread mine around. I do love your stories so keep writing 'em!

Jadette Paige said...

I have an elf novel too. Everything was down without any human influences. The book is gathering dust but one day I plan to pull it out and do something with it. Thanks Julia for posting about it.

Nina Pierce said...

I learned the hard way about names. I made a couple alien types too unique and it lost my friends who read erotic romance but not sci fi. I'll go a little easier next time. Great blog, Julia.

Nina Pierce said...

I learned the hard way about names. I made a couple alien types too unique and it lost my friends who read erotic romance but not sci fi. I'll go a little easier next time. Great blog, Julia.

Paris said...

Great post Julia with many wonderful points. Love the anarchist-author label:-)

Julia Barrett said...

Claudia and Jadette - I'm a big fan of elves! I think it's just that their issues have to be like ours, only the elvish version of ours.

Nina - SFR is tough - you either lose the romance readers or the sci fi readers. I'm hoping it will turn around eventually!

Hey Paris! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I live near there and LOVE hiking. I've done a lot of the southern trail. One of my favorite hikes in north GA crosses the AP. It goes to the HIKE INN. Fantastic hike!

Anonymous said...

Great post, Julia. #5 in particular comes in handy right now, as I'm writing a scene introducting a handful of new characters and I don't want to overwhelm my reader. Hmmm...will have to ponder this further. :-)

Julia Barrett said...

Ciara - I did part of the trail in northern Georgia and I spent a week in Smokey Mountain National Park - I think that's part of the Appalachian trail. It's absolutely gorgeous!

Rosalie - I have this major thing about too many characters introduced all at once who have weird sounding names. It's very hard to keep everyone straight.
I once read, or at least started, a paranormal that had 8 protagonists, all of whom were introduced in the first couple pages, all of whom had supernatural abilities and each of whom had a weird, somewhat similar-sounding name. I made it through a chapter before I gave up - this was from a mainstream pub, a paperback.