A Writer’s Guide to Building a Steampunk World

FOREWORD: I’m currently moving a lot of my articles from Squidoo over to my blog as Squidoo has declared almost all of my articles as spam. This is one of them. I’ve decided to totally migrate to my blog because I’m sick of fighting my corner on their site.

Create an Authentic Feeling Enviroment

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One of the magical perks to being a writer is the ability to mould our own world; a place so tangible that other people can taste it, smell it, walk and run within it. I’ve always believed this is why books like the Harry Potter series are popular. It’s not just the characters, it’s not just the story – Rowling created a world in such finite detail that people weep with dreams of living there. I know I do.

This is why it’s important to research what we’re writing, and research isn’t as dull as the high-school homework we groaned and avoided. If you’re writing about it, surely you find the surrounding lore, mechanics, culture etc. interesting? If not, why are you writing about it?

This article will not tell you HOW to write a steampunk novel or short story. Plot, characterisation and quality are most important but there are already sources on those. In this lens I’ll share with you the information I have discovered whilst building a steampunk world. The elements of steampunk – the choices in front of you. There are helpful videos, links to linguistics and social behaviour, apps, books, locomotive facts, a list of popular figure heads of the genre and more.

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Writing 101: How to Treat your Beta Readers

Originally posted on The Sarcastic Muse:

BetareadingI have done a lot of beta-reading this past year, and in turn, I’ve had people read my own work. Nothing is more essential in the early stages of a manuscript than its beta readers, so if you have a collection of reliable readers, you should do everything in your power to hold onto them. Below I’ve amassed a series of points that I think are important to take into consideration when you ask people to read for you.

  1. )Do not give them a first draft. The first draft is crap. You can write the first draft, edit the hell out of it, and then share it with your readers. And that’s okay. Because, by then, it’s no longer a first draft. But do not give away a draft you haven’t even bothered to edit yourself. That’s a waste of your readers’ time. If you’re desperate for someone to…

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Evangelion Manga Reviews: Apocalypse and Beaches

What are the spin-off mangas like?

evangelion_144Are you a fan of the popular anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion? Do you want to know what the spin-off mangas are like? Then this review is for you!

I’m a fan of the original series and most of its varing manifestations. I while back I was surprised to discover that there are two manga series. They are, for the most part, published fan fiction and not written by Hideaki Anno but that doesn’t mean they are bad.

I’ll be scrutinising use of plot, writing skill and characterisation. The two manga series in question are: The Shinji Ikari Rising Project and Campus Apocalypse

There are no spoilers in these reviews, but they are aimed at people who already know the characters and are aware of the original plot.

The Shinji Ikari Rising Project – Volume #1

NGE_ShinjiIkariV1This particular spin-off manga, by Osamu Takahashi, drags us into an altered universe with gorgeous artwork featuring our favourite leading characters – primarly, Asuka Langley Soryu.

It takes a while for any serious plot to kick in – chapter 6, to be precise. The lives of Asuka, Shinji, and Rei are completely mundane and revolve around sexual comedy and romantic angst. In a world where Shinji’s mother is still alive and living in a family unit with Gendo Ikari, the story tries to explore how the chosen three teenagers would compete and interact if dating was their only worry.

We’re led through this alternate universe by Asuka who has been friends with Shinji since the age of four. This childhood bond is threatened when the beautiful Rei Ayanami moves to town – capturing Shinji’s interest – and forces Asuka to consider if she wants to be more than Shinji’s friend.

It’s beautifully drawn but plot points concerning the EVA are jarring and feel out of place in an average world where no one even vaguely mentions the Angels. There is no tension or threat of an imminent attack, which makes the EVA project feel slightly superfluous, like an attempt to create danger where there is none.

The first volume is light hearted compared to the original anime series and takes a somewhat heart-warming look at the dynamics between Rei, Asuka, and Shinji. In fact, it acts like a harem in which Rei and Asuka fall over Shinji, and Shinji himself frequently catches glimpses of female underwear; torn between the attractions of two striking young women. So if you’re not a fan of series like Oh! My Goddess this might not be the adaptation for you.

Saying this, Takahashi has done a fantastic job of staying true to the original characters’ personalities and it might be worth giving it a go just to enjoy spending time with Asuka and company. They have been altered to better socialise with each other as there’s an uplifting sense of friendship and love beneath all their pranks and bickering. Even the adults, especially Misato Katsuragi and Gendo, have a cheerful disposition that seems unhampered by dark, NERV secrets.

For those of you hoping for shipping fanservice, Takahashi does a grand job of teasing you with hints at yaoi, yuri, and het pairings all around.

It’s a calm and casual approach to Evangelion. The plot is vague and distracted with summer festivals and beach trips, but the characterisation is gripping and makes it worth reading if you want a closer look at ‘what might have been’ had Shinji and Asuka come from a happier environment. Mechs are not promised!

I personally don’t enjoy this kind of manga, so I won’t be buying the rest of the series. For those of you who do like harem-esc manga, this seems like a good one.

  • Fantastic characterisation,
  • Beautiful artwork,
  • Superfluious plot.

Campus Apocalypse – Volume #1

campus-apocalypseCompared to The Shinji Ikari Raising Project, Ming Ming’s Campus Apocalypse is an original and thoughtful alternate-reality. Corporation NERV, Shinji’s high school, the Angels and the characters themselves have been shaken up and re-imagined. This one is my favourite of the two.

Mystery arises from the get-go when Shinji spots his classmate running around at night with a Giant Spear (a.k.a. the Lance of Longinus) and an unknown guy. He puts this out of his mind until the next day at school where he attends NERV Foundation, a Catholic high school.

His curiosity is peaked when ‘the unknown guy’ turns out to be a transfer student by the name of Kaworu Nagisa who has a particular interest in Shinji, and a suspicious attitude towards Rei. Little does Shinji know, his curiosity will plunge him into a world of Angels, EVAs, Cores, AT Fields and prophecies – but not as you’d expect.

Compared to the original series, the art style has a more modern, anime feel. Ming has poured his own touch onto the page rather than perfectly mimic Anno’s drawing, which is part of what makes this series stand out.

I wasn’t sure if Ming’s story would be particularly good, as the first “in-class-scene” has a forced tone of humour. It’s more a case of, ‘look, isn’t this FUNNY?‘ than it actually being humorous. I was thrilled to discover that the story takes a compelling turn and has an exciting take on all the tech/techno-babble from the series. The Angels are especially interesting in this adaptation. In fact, it was the appearance of the first ‘Angel’ that hooked my attention.

The mood of storytelling has kept with the original – dreamy, brutal, symbolic (to a sensible degree) – and promises to be an insightful interpretation. The characters are true to themselves, especially Rei, Shinji, and Asuka. Like the Shinji Ikari Raising Project, Shinji’s abandonment issues have been toned down but he is a lot truer to his original characterisation with unforgettable, well implemented mantras such as, “I mustn’t run away. I mustn’t run away. I mustn’t run away!

For those of you who ship Kaworu and Shinji, there are enough intense stares between the two boys to make fangirls die of giggles.

This is a compelling adaptation with narrative skill and unexpected re-imaginings of the original series. The artwork isn’t quite as mesmerising as Takahashi’s but the plot makes up for it by the book load. I’ll be buying the next volume.

  • Gripping story,
  • Unique alternate universe,
  • Well written.

Are you a big fan of the Evangelion series?

The Restaurant Owner Who Paid My Tube Fairs

If you follow me on Twitter then you’ll know that this weekend I was working as a journalist for MCM Buzz Press at London Comic Con. It was an absolute blast and I’ve never worked twelve hour shifts without realising it before!

But before any of that, I have another story.

On Saturday night, after the busiest day London Comic Con has ever had to date, we decided to eat dinner at the Italian restaurant next to our hotel. Absolutely beautiful food, portions larger than we could eat, and staff as friendly as sunshine.

The next morning, I realised my Oyster card was missing. If you’re not familiar with the London tube system, an Oyster card is like a ticket that you keep permanently. You top it up with money, swipe it at terminals, and travel around the underground at a much cheaper price. Mine was gone, and the tube is not cheap without one.

The last place my friend had seen me with it was at the restaurant, where I’d placed it on the table to get to something else in my pocket. Unfortunately, the card’s black wallet blended in with the tablecloth.

After work, we returned to the restaurant and asked the owner if anyone had handed in my card. Nope. Nothing. The owner suspected that a had guest taken it, or even one of his staff. I wasn’t too upset, I couldn’t blame him for my own negligence. I was just disheartened at the looming fee I’d have to pay to get to Poplar that evening and then Waterloo station the next day. I didn’t say anything though, I just told him not to worry and thanks for looking.

Without hesitation, however, as the owner poked around in the till draw, he said, “You can borrow mine.”

“Pardon?” I replied.

“How much was on your Oyster card?”

“Not much, only £7, so it’s not a huge loss, but it was enough to travel.” (Without an Oyster card the overall journey would come to £18, with an Oyster it would cost me £4 – keep in mind that paying for a hotel, tickets to London, and buying food had already cost me well over £200.)

“Then here,” the owner said, closing the till and instead reaching into his coat pocket hanging on the peg, “you can borrow my Oyster card. It has about £7 I think. You can post it back to me.”

I was so stunned I didn’t quite know what to say. “What? No! It’s okay.”

“You need to get home, don’t you?”

“Well, yes…”

“Then here. Just post it back to me.”

I’ve never encountered such spontaneous and trusting kindness from a total stranger before. I accepted his offer, thanking him profusely, and made it through London without having to pay a stupid amount. Now home, I’ve written him a little letter and sealed his card in an envelope, ready to post back to him tomorrow.

I’m just so touched by someone placing such trust in a stranger in need. These little kindnesses do happen, and they restore your faith in humanity.

If you’re ever in Canning Town, you should visit Pepenero restaurant; not just because the food is delicious and massive in size, but because the people who work there are friendly, have a good sense of humour, and its manager is one of a kind.

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Free stories and audio books; and season 2 of Bloodshot Buck

BWNlogo_blue (1)Fantastic news! Big World Network is now a FREE site with over 2,000 episodes and nearly 800 hours of audio from 70+ series.

What the friggity are you talking about?

If you’re new to this blog (hello!) you might not be totally familiar Big World Network (BWN), so let me push you down the rabbit hole and into an exciting new domain.

BWN is a literary network that features dozens of stories from a vast array of genres. Do you like Military Sci-Fi? Epic Fantasy? Historical Romance? Supernatural? Young Adult? Romance and Erotica? The list is extensive and, in fact, not all of their content is fiction!

The site works episodically, so each chapter is written as an ‘episode’ and there are twelve episodes in each season, per series. One episode is uploaded a week in both text and audio format, all of which is now free to enjoy.

Why not take a quick look at the website right now? [click, click, click!]

What’s the catch?

Zero. Zip-zada nada derpy dope none. Free stories. Free audio books. As many as you want.

Patreonage

BWN is changing because we want people to read the wonderful content that we work hard to provide. Right now, our authors, editors, and narrators are all doing this for free. The authors take home the largest percentage of royalties on book sales, but that doesn’t begin to cover all of the work that goes into each series and season.

Editors, narrators, authors—everyone who works for BWN (like myself) earns no money (I’m not crying there’s just student loans in my eye) but with your help, those of us working behind the scenes at BWN can finally get a little compensation for our time and effort, as well as provide readers and listeners with even more fantastic series.

By donating as little as $1 a month, patrons get exclusive perks. Check out the Patreon page for a snazzy video about why we’re super duper sexy.

BANNER

Bloodshot Buck, season 2

And last but not least, season 2 of Bloodshot Buck is now airing! Aaaaaah! Mitch and I have had such positive feedback about season 1’s cliffhanger ending, and we can’t thank our readers enough for their support. Get ready for Eva to start kicking some butt!

We also have a new Bloodshot Buck Facebook page and a tumblr blog now. The blog contains headcanons that…are probably canon but not in the story, pictures that inspire us, our notebook doodles, scenes that got cut, side-scripts and other helpful things.

Seriously, thank you so much for reading and listening. We couldn’t do what we love without your support.

Building strong narratives in the post-apocalyptic genre

 

I always appreciated—and what I appreciate even more now, in the wake of dozens of post-apocalyptic series that didn’t work nearly as well—was that the camera always kept its eye firmly turned toward the people, not the ruins.

–  Todd VanDerWerff

I read that quote a while back at the very bottom of an article about the modality of grief in Battlestar Galactica, which includes a variety of people expressing their opinion on “Unfinished Business”, an episode that split viewers two ways as either being pointless or profound because it focuses so entirely on character development that, technically, nothing happens plot wise.

That quote above, written by Todd VanDerWerff, hit me so much that I cut it from the text and emailed it to myself so I wouldn’t forget it. I’ve been thinking it over and over to the point that I thought I’d comment on it.

VanDerWerff’s main point about characters is clear: it should start and end with them. That is what makes post-apocalyptic stories work.

But, to be honest, this is true of any story, of any genre. “Character drives plot, not the other way around,” said some mysterious person who’s advice was swallowed into the writer’s guide from the void. But it’s the way VanDerWerff has worded his opinion of this universally acknowledged writing technique that really sticks with me, ‘the camera always kept its eye firmly turned toward the people, not the ruins.’ Earlier in his piece, he says,

What’s interesting to me about “Unfinished Business” is how many of the so-called “rules” of good TV that have come up in the last 10 years or so that this episode breaks. Apparently, the crew of the Galactica has this long-standing tradition of beating the shit out of each other when tensions run high, one that we’ve never heard of before. [...] In fact, it reminded me of showrunner Ron Moore’s Star Trek history. If we were randomly told that the crew of the Enterprise or Deep Space Nine had rankless boxing grudge matches every so often, no one would bat an eye. It feels different here, because everything is supposed to matter.

If we do not focus on the ruins or the futility of the character’s struggle in the grander scheme of things, does that mean the people themselves offer hope/intrigue simply through their experiences? To what extent must a story not focus on the ruins of civilisation for it to work? Why does VanDerWerff ‘appreciate’ an internalised story, like Battlestar Galactica’s, more so than one with a clearer focus point on the end game? These are questions I can’t answer but am happy to ponder.

Despite being a post-apocalyptic science-fiction story, I would actually call Battlestar Galactica a political drama. The world of the characters, though unbound by the vastness of space, is ironically limited to their spaceships. There are no alien worlds to visit. There are no planets they can stop off at and have a curious look around; stay aground a few days and test the rock density. And this spacial limitation is what forces the writers to focus on the characters and their desires – how these people fit into the greater scheme of society as a concept rather than as a ‘thing’ that must be saved. It must be reformed. The very set-up of Battlestar Galactica lends itself to the phrase ‘the camera always kept its eye firmly turned toward the people,’ because where else could it turn? Space, the final frontier, except not really?

Should we have entire episodes, or chapters, that focus totally on character development for a story to feel genuine? How do we balance plot and personal-social-politics? What does VanDerWerff mean?

Character, I guess, it’s all about character. But applied and implemented how in this particular instance? VanDerWerff doesn’t give any examples of stories he feels have failed, so it’s hard to dissect what exact technique is being praised.

Television and books have more freedom to explore character than, say, films. They also have less chance of doing it well (if we’re to focus on character and character alone in the wake of a larger plot) than, say, roleplaying video games, where it’s often expected that players get one-on-one time with characters and can take a break from the main story. The split in opinion over “Unfinished Business” shows that a large enough number of people watching television don’t think an episode about characters trying to resolve their wounds by boxing each other, currently an unexplored facet of the world, was necessary. Some, like Genevieve Koski, argue that it felt too out of place, too overdone, too much like a “patch-work-quilt”. While she enjoyed certain aspects of the episode, in her opinion piece, she says,

However—and here’s where I turn into the party-pooper—I find I have a much harder time connecting to the Starbuck-Lee-Anders relationship this time around, divorced from the rest of the series. Maybe it’s knowing where all those characters are heading after this cathartic boxing match—more anger, more betrayal, more all-consuming guilt—or maybe it’s just the lack of momentum inherent in viewing it out of context, but this time I found Lee and Starbuck’s midnight tryst a little eye-rolling, which somewhat tainted their final embrace for me.

Perhaps it was an oddly structured episode, perhaps it was out of place, and maybe the anger everyone in Battlestar feels does come across as too overdone (it’s important to note that Koski acknowledges watching episodes singularly rather than in order – and with hindsight – can affect its overall impact), but I personally still enjoyed the episode’s study of grief, like VanDerWerff, because it left a stronger impression of the characters’ bonds with each other.

What does that mean for those of us who are writers?

I suppose a question that often gets ignored by writers with massive worlds is this: how can I show the character has been impacted by current events? How can I show they are struggling without meandering away from the main plot and creating something hollow or cliche? Is it possible to do so without wandering away from the main plot?

When the main theme of our story is world destruction and it hinges upon an evil master plan, we can easily be swept away by the scale of our own ideas. There are so many explosions and betrayals and chase scenes that there’s little time left over to stop and hear the laughter. World destruction equals crying and gun-fights. It means grim-dark-grim-grumble-punches.

Perhaps, then, what VanDerWerff means is that it’s important that we take time to look away from the crying and the gun-fights. VanDerWerff appreciates it when the characters take a moment from grim-dark-fighting-and-futility to confront relationships, whether they are tangled love-hate affairs or simple friendships often overshadowed by war. These little moments are what make the bigger things feel important, because character gives meaning to conflict.

What do you think?

How do you feel about the post-apocalyptic genre? What do you think about episodes, regardless of series, that do nothing for the main story but show something sincere about the characters? Should the writers find better ways to incorporate characterisation? Or does it not matter, so long as the events of that episode still mean something in later episodes?

Bloody hell, writing is difficult.

The Most Common Mistakes Editors Fix In Manuscripts

Willow Wood:

I was intending to write a similar post this month, it’s in my draft folder right now, but I think James has covered so much more and in such a succinct way that there’s simply no point but to reblog his wonderful post. Give this a read if you’re looking for editorial advice on content writing.

Originally posted on Zen|Xen:

Nominative Case Explanation

You do not need this level of knowledge to write well

For those of you that don’t already know, Winter recently outed me as an underground editor. This means that my inbox is now swarmed with requests to look at your manuscript, which I’m all too happy to do, but I don’t always have time. Fortunately, your manuscript can be improved very easily.

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For writers and artists: prompts, resources, inspiration, motivation

 

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I have a tumblr blog that keeps track of all the things I find useful for writing or art-making. It’s gathering a fair chunk of content now and I figured other people might also find it useful.

It’s called: pensandpaintbrushes

Everything is tagged, so you can find subjects easily. Here are just a few examples of the content currently available:

  • Prompt
  • Writing
  • Characters (this refers to writing villains, heroes, anti-heroes etc.)
  • Drawing
  • Reference (this refers to body positions for drawing)
  • Art
  • Sci-fi
  • Folklore
  • Monsters

The writing tips range from writing for children to studying archetypes, as well as containing information on monsters, demons, folklore, science etc. It’s an organised mishmash of writerly/artistic resources.

Another useful blog is Agent and Editor Wish List. This is a regularly updated blog with requests from editors and agents about the sort of book they’re looking for next. It’s a gold mine. You may find the perfect person to submit your manuscript to.

For those who are self-publishing and in need of a cover, check out Book Cover Machine for unique jackets to compliment your novel. You can ask for a custom made product or choose from her selection of pre-made covers, then buy the rights for it at a reasonable price. There are some real gems hidden within her collection, so it’s worth browsing to see what you might find.

And last but not least, Winter Bayne posts great links to competitions, short stories, and new authors of whom she finds interesting. These often lead me to aspiring webzines and resources I probably never would have stumbled over on my own. She blogs about her own progress as a writer, too, and is generally very lovely.

I hope these blogs are useful to someone else as well!

6 things that happen when you write about feminism

Willow Wood:

Another reblog this morning. This time it’s a little bit of motivational talk to keep you writing where everyone else would tell you to stop.

Originally posted on Sarah Ditum:

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1. You will be accused of hating men

At first this will sound ridiculous. Then you’ll feel irritated. Then you might feel riled and want to say: “YES I HATE MEN AND THEY MUST ALL BECOME SOYLENT GREEN.”

But the truth is, I don’t hate men. I just think I am awesome – too awesome for my life to be decided along the lines of what someone else thinks is appropriate to my gender. Too awesome to go around cringing over the fact that I am woman-shaped and have woman interests and woman-y inside-bits.

The people who accuse feminism of hating men have a very fragile, narrow idea of being a man – they’re something like a fluorescent tube. They are worried that any change will shatter them. Feel sorry for them, but not too sorry: like the rest of us, they will probably be OK.

2. You will get…

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Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly: Call for Submissions, Issue 3

Willow Wood:

Space romance! Yes!

Originally posted on :

SFRQuarterly_issue1_cover Sci-Fi Romance short stories sought for publication in Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly . Must include SF and Romance elements with an upbeat ending. We prefer stronger heroines to passive ones.

Length: 1,000 to 7,500 words.

Payment: $25 (US) paid upon publication, promotional biography with two links, and a complimentary quarter-page advertisement.

Deadline: May 01, 2014.

Rights sought:  six-month exclusive world digital BhlxfbGCIAA5Nj5rights from date of publication; non-exclusive thereafter.

Other info:

One short story will be published per quarterly issue. Please send only edited and polished work, with the understanding that the majority will be rejected. Due to time constraints, we are unable to give personalized feedback on rejected stories.

Stories that tie-in to a previously established world will be considered, but story must stand alone.

All sub-genres of science fiction will be considered.

Any heat level, from sweet to erotic, will be considered. Be aware that the fiction…

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