Category: Writing

4. Ask A Triceratops

askatriceratops

This week I take a look at choosing your sub-genre:

“Dear Susan,
I’ve written an urban fantasy set in Victorian times. My boyfriend says that I can’t call it ’steampunk’ because it isn’t science-fiction but I don’t want to call it ‘gaslight’ because the whole story takes place outside in daytime. My mum says I should just call it urban fantasy but my Dad says paranormal romance will attract more readers.

Any advice for the right sub-genre?

Yours
Ms. Difference Engine”

Triceratopian literature also has many genres and sub-genres. A few examples:

  • A stupid t-rex tries to climb a tree and falls out and lands on somebody which hurts them [similar to the mammal notion of ‘tragedy’]
  • A drunken t-rex tries to climb a tree and everybody stands around laughing at them [similar to the mammal notion of ‘comedy’]
  • A drunken t-rex tries to climb a tree and falls out and lands on somebody which hurts them [tragi-comedy]
  • A drunken t-rex is too drunk to even try to climb the tree but not so drunk that they can’t explain to everybody how they are going to climb a tree but the only one who will listen is a triceratops who has misplaced their herd and really just wants advice on finding them [drama]
  • A t-rex gets drunk and eats a wizard [fantasy]
  • A t-rex invents a new way of getting drunk [science fiction]
  • An allosaurus gets drunk and tries to climb a tree and finds a wizard and eats it [historical fantasy]

Saying “my novel has a drunk t-rex and some trees” really isn’t enough to pick what genre it should be in! What story is not going to have a t-rex, some trees and some alcohol related incident?

One solution would be to add elements that make it clearly one genre rather than another. This can be quite forced and can make your story seem odd or unnatural.

A different solution is to clarify the genre-boundary in your book blurb e.g.:

“This novel is a cross between a t-rex gets drunk and eats a wizard stories and a drunken t-rex is too drunk to even try to climb the tree but not so drunk that they can’t explain to everybody how they are going to climb a tree but the only one who will listen is a triceratops who has misplaced their herd and really just wants advice on finding them stories.”

See? The reader knows what to expect now!

“Urban fantasy” will probably work just fine for your novel if you clarify some of the other features in your blurb. To help you along here is my suggestion:

“In Victorian London Elizabeth Hopsworthy finds herself lost in London’s majestic Hyde Park. Who are the strange figures she can see from the corners of her eyes? What kind of enchantment has befallen her? Did she drink one too many sherries? Maybe she could use her font limbs to climb a tree? Ooops! She has fallen out of the tree and landed on a triceratops injuring it. I bet that triceratops has quite the story to tell! Well I’m going to tell you about the time somebody told you the story that triceratops was going to tell!”

Or something like that. I should imagine that humans climbing trees does not have the same inherent dramatic tension as a t-rex trying to climb a tree, what with your longer fore-limbs and twiggy finger things and simian ancestory.

Advertisements

3. Ask A Triceratops

askatriceratops

This week I take a look at e-book formats:

“Dear Susan,
MOBI or e-Pub? Which is best?

Yours
Sickof Peadeaeff”

Smart question. I find the best plan is to avoid making the choice at all! Use a tool like Calibre and you can move quickly and easily between formats. Alternatively you can consider using Smashword which will convert your book into multiple formats. The last thing you want to do is make life difficult for your readers.

Personally I write everything in plain text and the only concession I make to formatting is line breaks. When you’ve travelled through the eras as much as I have you learn one key fact: text formats keep changing! Who now uses the zqipo format beloved of the dinosapien civilisation of Nnnerrrrn? Nobody! When your only city and only online bookstore is little more than the eroded crater of a comet impact, you really can’t expect anybody to still be using your proprietary e-book file format!

And what of the far future? In fungus town people mainly stare at mould. Mould is a good choice because frankly there is always mould.

2. Ask A Triceratops

askatriceratops

By Susan Triceratops

This week I take a look at the world of love:

“Dear Susan,
I want to add a bit of a love story plot to my zombie survival novel. Is that a good idea?

What would a triceratops do?
Yours
Romeo Corpsewalker”

Great question Romeo!
In triceratops culture we make a big distinction between what mammals might call ‘romantic love’ and ‘erotic or sexual love/lust’. For a triceratops sex is largely perfunctory and does not form the basis of long term relationships. For us ‘herd love’ is paramount – something not unlike mammal notions of camaraderie, or team-bonding but deeper, more heartfelt and closer emotionally to mammalian romance.

So would I include a love story in a zombie survival novel? You betcha! A group of survivors learning how to be tough in a world full of remorseless yet stupid predators? That’s practically soap-opera for a triceratops. You may not believe this but your average T-rex was either an idiot or a drunk or both. They weren’t zombies obviously but surviving in the Cretaceous was not unlike living in a zombie apocalypse but with more cycads and proto-flowers.

I can’t think of a nicer story than those survivors bonding, coming together as a herd and every so often releasing armoured shabby terror on the idiot predators around them.As they used to say: love is stampeding at a T-rex till it stupidly runs off a cliff. Happy days, happy happy days.

McEdifice Returns: Chapter penULTIMATE!!! So many reveals!

mcedificePEN

By Timothy ‘Last Gasp’ Cat and Straw ‘Stick a Fork in It’ Puppy

“Has our whole relationship been a lie?” asked McEdifice, as Betsy finished recounting this backstory in the cathedral just so everybody could catch up.

“No Chiseled! I still love you its just that I’m now the most powerful demonic entity in this dimension! Our wedding vows are a sacred compact, Chiseled. You must join me as my husband and BECOME KING OF THE SPACE VAMPIRES!”

“NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!” said McEdifice.

“Yes,” said another voice as a figure stepped out of the shadows. It was Simon Popwhistle! Head of the Project-Initiation Gantt Chart Oversight Enabling Team at Spindle, Spindle and Gatefold!

“You?” said McEdifice.

“I just said so, didn’t I?” said Popwhistle.

An uncomfortable silence descended over the cathedral. Commander Clench looked at his shoes.

Betsy’s ethereal voice spoke up: “I think, Popwhistle, that we are waiting for you to explain to McEdifice why you are here rather than being tortured in a Human Resources dungeon.” [more twists after the fold]

Continue reading

McEdifice Returns: Chapter Man Pain Back Story

mcedificevampireking

McEdifice Returns: The Origin of Betsy

T.T.T.Cat & S.Puppy

“It is I, Betsy, the demonically possessed funeral urn of your ex-wife! I have done all this to reclaim you to be my king! Chiseled McEdifice – King of the Space Vampires!” she said, her voice echoing around the cathedral

“NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!” cried McEdifice – looking older and more careworn and yet still her McEdifice. The man she had cheated even death to find.

When they first met he was nothing more than Private Corporal Specialist Chiselled McEdifice of Tango Squadron, Fifth Phalanx of the Space-Navy Space- SEALS. Exhausted and dejected after Tango Squadron’s mission against the eCyberHumans had led to huge losses of his comrades after a secret infiltration by Space Vampires [see ‘The Dead Tell No Secrets of the Dead’ There Will Be Walrus First Volume V], Betsy had helped McEdifice re-find his Phalanx while McEdifice had helped her old Grandpappy fight off the corrupt rancher who was trying to steal his land.

After he flew off that first time, she never expected to see him again [see ‘Chapter 17: Here Comes McEdifice’ Straw Puppy and Timothy in Space fight the Space Aliens and Win: Book 4 – Outer Space Big War Again] but had valiantly got on with her life. She put aside any thought of meeting him again – for McEdifice was married to the Space-Navy Space- SEALS and wasn’t the kind of man to settle down with a giant space-oppossum rancher’s grand daughter.

Yet fate was destined to throw them together [see ‘Chapter 32: Farewell McEdifice’ Straw Puppy and Timothy in Space fight the Space Aliens and Win: Book 6 – Oh Boy! Space Battles!] when McEdifice decided to take up giant  space-oppossum ranching and leave behind his life of fighting and vampire slaying.

All that would come to an end when the Andorrian Space Plague hit. McEdifice was forced to leave the planet in a desperate search for a cure [see McEdifice 1 – His First Solo Adventure] only to return an hour too late! The plague had struck and the antidote was ineffective once the victim had passed through the purple spot phase. Tragically, Betsy had died that day.

Or had she?

No, actually she hadn’t! Little had Betsy realized but in fact the woman who had died of the plague was a psychically linked clone of Betsy! The real Betsy was in a stasis chamber in the space castle of the evil scientist Doctor Millicent Malpractice [see issue 6 McEdifice Solo Adventures Volume 5]  where she was being kept as a potential bargaining chip so that Doctor Malpractice could force McEdifice into fighting the Cosmic DragonBeast of the Cake Nebula.

Once again reunited [see issue 36 McEdifice Solo Adventures Volume 5] the happy couple decided to settle on Backwater 19 – the quiet planet of the Flyover Quadrant. The destruction of Backwater 19 by the telepathic twin of the Cosmic DragonBeast left McEdifice devastated by the loss of Betsy – doubly so as it happened two day before their wedding day [see  Chapter 4 of Horrific Tales of the Cosmic DragonBeast – An Anthology].

That Betsy had both escaped the destruction of the planet and lost her memory and joined the SMOSHQ (Secret Marxist Organization for Spying Headquarters) was not discovered until two standard galactic years later [see most of Straw Puppy and Timothy in Space fight the Space Aliens Commies and Win: Book 19 – It is Us Against the Space Commies!] Beautiful but deadly, Betsy (or as she was now known Betsina aka the ‘Scorpius the Assassin’) found her deep seated love for McEdifice triumphed over her highly advanced spy training and dialectic materialist ideology.

Taking on a new role as head of security and personal assistant to McEdifice, Betsy took on her new persona of Betsina Darkshadow. Together, she and McEdifice formed the crime fighting duo at the heart of McEdifice & Darkshadow Detective Agency [see  McEdifice & Darkshadow Detective Agency: Book 1 – The Caractacus Caper] As Betsina Darkshadow she helped former Chief Sergeant Flight Commander Chiselled McEdifice solve psychic crimes, protect the weak and uphold the law. Finally tired of karate-kicking bad guys while wearing high heels, Betsina changed her name back to Betsy and she and McEdifice finally got married [see McEdifice & Darkshadow Detective Agency: The Final Volume – Happily Ever After!]

Her tragic death due to a hand-gliding accident [see chapter 1 McEdifice & Darkshadow Detective Agency/Psychic SWAT Mercenaries  Book 1- Back & Ready For Action] would spur McEdifice on in his quest for an improved regulatory framework for hand-gliding safety. Not a book would go by without McEdifice mourning the loss of his dear Betsy and the urn containing her ashes would feature prominently in the second chapter of books 2 to 5 of McEdifice & Darkshadow Detective Agency/Psychic SWAT Mercenaries which just goes to show what a sensitive guy McEdifice is.

And that would have been it for Betsy if it weren’t for the intervention of the demon Demonicus who brought her back to semi-life as an undead shade [see Straw Puppy and Timothy in Space fight the Space Aliens Commies Spooks and Win: Book 23 – Halloween In Space!] After Demonicus was defeated Betsy rejoined the McEdifice & Darkshadow Detective Agency as a haunted funeral urn [see book 6 of McEdifice & Darkshadow Detective Agency/Psychic SWAT Mercenaries] only to disappear mysteriously at the end of book 7 of McEdifice & Darkshadow Detective Agency/Psychic SWAT Mercenaries.

In fact, Betsy had discovered that she was in reality the half-human grandchild of the demon Demonicus because – get this, because this will blow your minds as a revelation – Grandpappy the space opposum rancher was ACTUALLY DEMONICUS ALL ALONG! Ha! I Bet you didn’t see THAT coming. Oh boy what a twist!

With Demonicus dead [see Straw Puppy and Timothy in Space fight the Space Aliens Commies Spooks and Win: Book 23 – Halloween In Space!] Betsy was now a Princess of the Demon Dimension! With her new found status she had made herself Queen of the Space Vampires! Oh my gosh, yes.

“Has our whole relationship been a lie?” asked McEdifice, as Betsy finished recounting this backstory in the cathedral just so everybody could catch up.

“No McEdifice! I still love you its just that I’m now the most powerful demonic entity in this dimension! Our wedding vows are a sacred compact, Chiseled. You must join me as my husband and BECOME KING OF THE SPACE VAMPIRES!”

“NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!” said McEdifice.

 

McEdifice Returns: Chapter 21

spookcathedral2

McEdifice Returns – A Novel

By Timothy ‘America’s Greatest Living Cat of Letters’ the Talking Cat and Straw ‘My Friends Totally Told Me they Nominated Me for Pulizer’ Puppy.

Good evening dear readers, it is I, Timothy the Talking Cat. For each journey there is a destination and for each destination there is a journey and in each journey before one reaches that destination there comes a point where that destination, though not reached, becomes manifest in the course of the journey – when one apprehends that the drawing near of the destination and hence the end of the journey is approaching. Dear readers, you have followed our tale thus far and the chapter before you is NOT the end of our journey but merely a harbinger of the end. I shall let Straw Puppy explain…

Good evening dear readers, it is I, Straw Pups, currently wondering what a hair-binger is? Somebody who binges on hair? Reader, close your eyes and listen to my voice! Imagine a blood red sky, a wind blowing across a lake of blood that sounds half like a howl of pain and half like a moan of ecstasy. Around you are gothic spires, semi-ruined cathedrals, haunted castles perched precariously on cliff edges, frightened unkempt villages, ghastly space ports occupied by coffin shaped shuttle rockets, administrative buildings shaped like, um, um, spooky office buildings, bodies impaled on spikes, spikes impaled on bodies. Oh the whole place is blood and scary but also kind of sexy but not in away that is too kinky because we’d like the movie version to be rated PG-13(US)/12(UK)/M(Aus) – we can probably fine tune it by adding some swear words if it gets too close to PG (which would be just lame). Anyhoo, it is your imagination so you can make it as freaky as you like just don’t tell Timothy as he can get a bit squeamish.

DRACULON 6! The Vampire Planet! Yes, you heard me right! It is a planet FULL of vampires! Permanent cloud cover from its blood red clouds means that the vampires had no need to fear the caustic beams of the local sun. Surrounded by vampire friendly architecture and like, just LOADS of crypts and spooky places! The only non-vampires? Frightened villages, kept alive purely for sport! You think you would last FIVE MINUTES in this place? No way, José!

Our heroes:

  • ScanScan – the dancing photocopier man. His powers: interdimensional travel, Bolshoi level classical ballet dancing, can print, scan, photocopy and fax in a wide range of standard paper sizes including international A series A5 to A2, B series and US standards. Combat role: Transport and evac.
  • Qzrrzxxzq – alien anthropologist, glamorous Director of Post-planning Process at Spindle, Spindle and Gatefold and reservist in her home planet’s special forces. Her powers: qualitative research and academic writing in the humanities, business administration, some kind of freaky alien Krav-Maga like fighting style. Combat role: intelligence and field support.
  • Chiseled McEdifice – Veteran Space Marine, detective and vampire hunt, former leader of Darkshadow Detective Agency/Psychic SWAT Mercenaries. Powers: awesome at everything. Combat role: KICKING VAMPIRE ASS.

That was the team and here they were on Draculon 6 with no weapons and no backup and ONE mission: to find out what the flipping heck was going on!

“Here is the plan,” said McEdifice commandingly, “ScanScan you stay bunkered down here in this empty crypt where we are currently hiding and which we already secured and which is vampire free and which we have already ascertained isn’t currently being used by vampires.”

“Ready to accept next job!” said ScanScan obligingly, he eyes lingering softly and McEdifices firm muscles.

“Good man! Qzrrzxxzq, I need you to stay with ScanScan. He is our only route out of here and I need somebody I can trust to watch his six.”

“Damn it, McEdifice, you can’t do this alone!” said Qzrrzxxzq, “but I can’t abandon ScanScan!”

“Trust me Qzrrzxxzq, it is better this way. I can move quickly and silently and ScanScan needs his toner cartridge replacing. He can’t walk the distance needed!” explained McEdifice.

With that, McEdifice stepped out of the crypt.

“Please replace toner cartridge.” said ScanScan mournfully.

“I feel the same way,” said Qzrrzxxzq with a sigh.


 

Despite the fractured tombstones, impaling stakes, and writhing dead bodies, the going was smooth and McEdifice made quick time. His target was a massive central command cathedral that set amid a inch-deep lake of mirror like blood. McEdifice’s finely tuned vampire hunting sense told him that this was the epicenter of all Space Vampire activity. Vampire HQ if you will.

His mission was simple. Infiltrate the HQ. Gather intel. Kill any vampires that got in his way.

The great gates to the entrance of the cathedral stood open. Here on Draculon 6, the space vampires had no need for guards!

With cat puppy like reflexes, he snuck into the cathedral, his sense tingling with the scent of vampire spoors. With his bare hands he pulled the legs of a near by stool and quickly fashioned them into razor sharp anti-vampire stakes – one for each hand and one spare (it was a three-legged stool rather than a four-legged stool which I think I’d call a chair rather than a stool I guess. I think a stool has three legs by definition).

CLANG!!!!!!

Suddenly the massive cathedral doors closed with a clang! Around him the cathedral cloisters echoed with the laughter of hundreds of SPACE VAMPIRES.

Oh my gosh! It was a trap!

One very dapper vampire stepped out from behind a profaned altar.

“Welcome, Chiseled McEdifice, we’ve been expecting you!” said the vampire.

McEdifice said nothing but tightened his grip on the stakes.

“And by ‘we’ I mean your old friends – The TREERAT GANG!” laughed the vampire.

From out of the nave stepped the members of the Treerat Gang, still in the space army uniforms but now in a sort of more punk-sexy sort of way because they were obviously all now vampires.

“So it was the Treerat Gang who was behind all this all along.” said McEdifice still pretty damn cross at them for the following reasons:

  1. Shooting at his head
  2. Killing Chuck the Pony (don’t worry he isn’t really dead)
  3. Sabotaging Simon the Bicycle (sadly Simon is definitely dead)
  4. Putting hallucinogenic drugs on the handlebars of the Simon
  5. Being all round bad people

“Oh no,” said a different voice. Out from the shadows stepped Commander Clench of Intergalactic Space Navy Marine Corp.

“Commander Clench, my old nemesis!” said McEdifice, “So you turned traitor and vampire. Despite everything I thought you had more integrity than that! It was you behind this all along.”

“Hmm,” said Commander Clench, holding something behind his back, “No to all of those point, I don’t have more integrity, I’m not a traitor, I haven’t turned vampire and I wasn’t behind this all along. No, you see, delivering you to the Space Vampires was part of my officially sanctioned mission by the Galactic Government to broker a peace treaty. The supreme leader of the Space Vampires wanted just one thing – you and they knew exactly how to get you here and what your weakness was. Hmm, I should have guessed it was hippies.”

“But who? Who is this monster manipulating events!” shouted McEdifice looking around for some super-duper chief vampire.

“Who? Oh, McEdifice, she is right here!” and with that Commander Clench revealed what he was holding – a funeral urn!

“No! It can’t be!” sobbed McEdifice, “She went missing in McEdifice & Darkshadow Detective Agency/Psychic SWAT Mercenaries (MDDAPSWATM) Book 7: Crisis on the Space Orient Express!”

“Oh but it is!” said a spooky voice echoing from the urn, “It is I, Betsy, the demonically possessed funeral urn of your ex-wife! I have done all this to reclaim you to be my king! Chiseled McEdifice – King of the Space Vampires!”

“NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!”

 

1. Ask A Triceratops

askatriceratops

By Susan Triceratops

This week an aspiring author asks:

“Dear Susan,
I can’t decide whether I should use first person or third person for my new novella. I’d like to try second person but I’m told it is really difficult.

What would a triceratops use?
Yours
Firstorthird Cantdecide”

Great question! I’m going to have to get technical here!

Typically there are three and a half choices.

  • First person – typified by the word “I”. The story is narrated directly by a character involved in the events and at the centre of the story (or part of the story).
  • Second person – typified by the word “you”. The story is told as if the reader is being addressed as if they were a main character in the book.
  • Third person – typified by she, he, they or other pronouns. The story is narrated as if by an observer who can knows what is happening but is not actually involved.Third person can be split into two further types:
    • Limited point of view – third person is used but in a way that follows a particular character and limits what we are told by what that character knows or experiences.
    • Omniscient – the story is told as if by a person who knows everything relevant that occurred.

Human writers like to use first and third-limited these days. I guess they suit mammal brains.

What would a triceratops use? Well grammatically and stylistically we like to use the FOURTH person.

The fourth person is characterised by the word “apparently” and is the perspective of somebody discussing events indirectly.

The fourth person comes in two basic forms:

  • Fourth person incidental – the story is told in the form of describing indirect events and occurrences from which the main story can be inferred. The closest I’ve seen a mammal use this is Tom Stoppard’s Rozencrantz and Guilderstern are Dead – which doesn’t really capture the full triceratops literary style but gives you a sense of it.
  • Fourth person retelling – the story is told as somebody re-telling a story they heard from somebody else. This is seen as a lesser, more populist style by triceratops. However, it can stack recursively to make quite complex perspectives when the fourth person is used to tell a story that was already fourth person. To translate into mammal, imagine a film of an interview of a director of a documentary about the staging of a performance of a dramatisation of a novel that was of a woman watching the film version of the play of the Frost-Nixon interviews.

The fourth person is modified by noting the perspective which is being used for the incidental account or retelling.

  • Fourth by first person – “I was told that it was the best of times and the worst of times.”
  • Fourth by second person – “You were told that it was the best of times and the worst of times.”
  • Fourth by third person – “They were told that it was the best of times and the worst of times.”

In addition the perspective of the incidental or retold story may need to be noted. This is done by adding “via”. ““You were told that it was the best of times and the worst of times.” would be classed as Fourth by second via third omniscient in a triceratopian writing class.

The most highly regarded approach in triceratops society is the fourth by fourth by third via second. It is a highly traditional perspective used in both contemporary forms and classic poetry. Original it was used to describe the incidental aftermath of what occurred in a retelling of doctor explaining what happened just before a triceratops was accidentally knocked unconscious by a drunken t-rex trying to climb a tree (a recurring theme in classical triceratops poetry).

Personally, I’d opt for Fourth (incidental) by second via third. This may sound super difficult but it is an easy introduction for a mammal to have a go at the triceratopian way of writing! Just imagine you are telling somebody what happened to them when they were watching a movie of the main story that you originally had in mind. Note a common mistake by mammals is to add in to many sundry events that aren’t in the ‘movie’. Your fourth by second protagonist should only be experiencing events and emotions that arise directly from the ‘movie’ (i.e. your third person narrative).