March 30, 2011

Avenir Eclectia--A new venue for sci-fi microfiction!

A Splashdown Books Project

Here's some good news for Christian Science Fiction writers! Explore the world of Avenir Eclectia - a colony clinging to life in the distant constellation Cetus, the Whale. Avenir, a space station-like ship, orbits Eclectia, a volcanic planet hostile and dangerous to human life. Planetside, miners, hunters, and smugglers eke out a living as best they can. Contact with the mother planet, Earth, has been lost, and nearly forgotten.
Avenir Eclectia is a multi-author microfiction project from Splashdown Books, currently running online but slated to be released in print as an anthology in the future. They are looking for vignettes and flashfiction set in Avenir Eclectia, preferably pieces 150 - 400 words in length. Visit their website; read the history and background of Eclectia; enjoy the stories posted by other writers; write your own!
Be a part of shaping the intriguing world of Avenir Eclectia.

March 28, 2011

Story Layers

Everybody has it: that one book or movie they just keep coming back to over and over, because every time they re-read or re-watch it they catch something they didn't before. It's new every time around.
For me, it's The Count of Monte Cristo. No matter how many times I see it, I'm still riveted every time, and I think part of what makes it so fabulous is the many story layers it has. Every carefully executed plan has a meaningful significance. Every statement or remark is impregnated with underlying meaning. The layers are like pieces of different colored sheer cloth--every time you look at them, you see through certain colors to other colors in a slightly different way.
I try to achieve layering in my own stories, but it can be very difficult. I want my stories to have that read-it-over-and-over-again effect on my readers. I want them to catch things on their fifth read-through that they didn't catch the first four times.
I think a lot of it depends on paying very close attention to the dialogue and action of the characters. Don't have characters do things just off-the-cuff for no reason--or if they do, make it come back and bite them with significance they didn't expect.
Make characters pay attention to what the other characters are doing. This seems to work especially well between villains and protagonists. If, at the beginning of the story, Character A makes a remark to Character B, let B throw it back at A later on. The Count of Monte Cristo is a great example of this in more ways than one.
In his Fiction-Writing Tips, Jeff Gerke touches on this a little bit in his tip on using circularity (tip #40). It's a great tip, definitely worth reading.

What are your thoughts on story layers? Do you use them in your own writing? What book or movie keeps you coming back for more again and again?

March 25, 2011

For laughs...

Sorry... but after the last post I just couldn't resist!

Have a great weekend, everybody!

March 21, 2011

Riese: Kingdom Falling

Once again, a subject mentioned in a previous post has been found to deserve another post all its own. : )
Riese: Kingdom Falling is a web series, the first season of which can be viewed on Season One consists of ten episodes, each averaging about 7 to 9 minutes long, so the entire first season comes out to about the length of a normal movie.
The series is set in the fictional country of Elysia, a nation that has been overthrown and taken over by a religious coup. Riese, Elysia's rightful princess, escaped the murderous rebels who murdered her family, and is now running for her life trying to avoid being hunted down by the usurping empress Amara. She has Fenrir, a wolf, to help her, but the two of them are up against armies of huntsmen, the fanatic religious group called The Sect, and ruthless, brainwashed cyborgs.
Riese is very well-produced, and I was delighted with how clean it was, especially for being a secular production.
There are some definite religious aspects to the story, and the devoutly religious characters are the 'bad guys', which was somewhat of a concern for me. Riese is labeled a 'heretic' for refusing to accept their religion, but whether she conforms to another religion or not is not made clear. Also, The Sect's beliefs are in no way made to resemble Christianity, which was a relief.
There is a scene where Riese wakes up in a hospital after suffering a severe injury, and the doctors have removed her shirt to treat the wound. In another scene, Empress Amara is consulting one of her advisers while changing her clothes; she is standing behind a dressing screen so all you can see are her shoulders, but I still found that a little weird. Later, when Riese learns the fate of her younger brother, she uses a derogatory name for the man responsible (I don't approve of the use of the word, but in all fairness, he really deserved it).
If you watch the series and, toward the end, suddenly begin to worry that a very inappropriate scene may be approaching, don't fret. I thought the same thing, and was almost furious at having watched so far only to have to turn it off. But as I said, don't worry. You think it's coming, but it doesn't.
On the whole, this is a great series full of action, suspense, and loads of steampunk flavor. For anyone who wants to really get acquainted with the steampunk style and genre, or for that matter anyone who just wants a great story to watch, I recommend Riese: Kingdom Falling.

March 19, 2011


I know I 'defined' the steampunk genre in my last post, but like so many of the speculative genres it can be very broad, and it is very new and unfamiliar to most people, so I thought I would take the time to expand on it a bit.
Personally, I have fallen in love with the steampunk genre and its quirks, styles, and attitude. Once I learned the definition of the term and began looking into books and movies that fell into that category, I realized that steampunk is more than just Victorian-era science fiction. It is, essentially, a style all its own that can be used in Victorian sci-fi type settings (e.g. The Young Sherlock Holmes, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea), but that can also be carried over into alternate history, or even entire worlds all its own.
No matter what path you take, there are countless possibilities with steampunk.
Take the historical route, and you have all the trial-and-error inventions, cultural quirks, world-changing conflicts, and political issues to work with. Science was really beginning to 'take off' during that time. Archaeology was becoming a very popular topic of interest. Steam-powered machinery was revolutionizing the industrial world (as well as contributing to the term 'steampunk' itself). Social, religious, and personal conflict erupted in the wake of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species. The medical field saw significant advances--sometimes in the wrong direction, but advances nonetheless. Inventors all over the world were racing to create the next revolutionary device. I don't think I really have to say it: there is a lot there for a writer to work with.
Of course, with steampunk you also have the option of building a whole world all its own. One might ask: 'If steampunk is based on our world's Victorian era with a sci-fi twist, how can it be set in its own world?' Really, to pull it off you just have to familiarize yourself with the steampunk style, the kind of technology that fits with the genre, etc., and build your world based on that.The best example I have seen of this so far is Riese: Kingdom Falling, a web series produced and hosted by Although, I am currently part of a multi-author team that is working on a steampunk/alternate universe production, which we hope to be officially announcing soon. Stick around for more on that at a later date!
What are your thoughts on the steampunk genre? As I mentioned in the last post, I believe it has the potential to be the next big trend in speculative fiction. What do you think?

March 17, 2011

What is Speculative Fiction?

I get asked this question a lot when I tell people what I do. So, for anyone who may be wondering, here it is:
Speculative fiction is, in short, fiction that is not based in or on reality. However, this concept can take many different forms, so here is a quick rundown of some of the basic genres that speculative fiction usually gets broken into.
-Fantasy Stories of this genre are usually set in alternate universes, with little or no connection at all to Earth, its history, its laws of nature, or rules of operation. (The exception would be Historical Fantasy, which is set on Earth but usually based on fictional countries or people groups. The Princess Bride is a good example of Historical Fantasy.) Fantasy stories often involve the use of magic in some form (Click Here to read my thoughts on magic in Christian Fiction) and fantastic creatures such as dragons, fairies, elves, mermaids, etc.
-Science Fiction (sci-fi) This genre is extremely versatile, so a good rule of thumb for identifying it is the use of highly advanced technology. A sci-fi story can be based on Earth and revolve around technology developments far beyond our own, or it can be based in an alternate universe whose technology is highly developed.
-Alternate History While all fiction is essentially based on the premise of 'What if?', Alternate History takes the question to the extreme. What if the English throne had stayed in the line of King Arthur? What if it was the Russians, not the English, who colonized Australia? What if the Roman empire hadn't fallen? What might the world be like then?
-Steampunk This one is relatively new even to secular fiction, and virtually unknown to Christian fiction as of yet. The basic premise of the Steampunk genre is: What would science fiction have looked like to the Victorian Era world? Now some of you may be thinking along the lines of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or Around the World in 80 Days. And you would be absolutely right. In my personal opinion, Steampunk could be the next big trend in fiction.
-Legend The Legend genre is pretty self-explanatory. Arthurian legend, Norse sagas, mythology, all fall under that heading.
What is your favorite speculative genre?

March 14, 2011

Villains: Part Four

Well, this will be the last post in my series on villains, so I have a couple of different topics I'll touch on. Both are basically questions on matters of opinion.
The first one is on villains' appearances. There are cases, such as in the Louis L'Amour books where the villain is usually ugly or 'greasy' in appearance, maybe has a disfiguring scar, or something of the sort.
Then there are cases such as in C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, where the villainess (i.e., the White Witch) is deceptively beautiful.
Which do you prefer? Or, does it just depend on the villain and the circumstances?
The second topic I'll mention (I thought it kind of fitting for the last post in my series on villains) is on the matter of the villain's demise. There are basically three main categories that said demises can fall into:
If I may use Louis L'Amour as an example again, the villains in his novels always, always get what they deserve in the end. Be it hanged in the town square, shot in the street, run out of the country, or trampled to death by a herd of cattle, rest assured: a L'Amour villain will, one way or another, get what's coming to him.
Occasionally I come across a book in which the villain converts, repents, or otherwise changes his ways at some point in the story. Nineteenth-century author E.D.E.N. Southworth is notorious for doing this in some form or other. It can be a very good plot twist if well-executed, but infuriating to the reader if done clumsily.
Finally, there are those rare and bizarre cases in which the reader follows the desperate plight of the hero through the entire book, loathing the villain more and more with every page turn... and the villain wins in the end. (Note: if you are an author who writes this sort of story, it may be in your best interest not to say anything to me about it. I have a very heavy volume of The Literature of England sitting next to me right now, and I may have to come and pound you with it.) Pray, tell me: what is the point of reading a book if the bad guy wins in the end?!?! I usually try to keep an open mind about different approaches to plot execution, but I cannot abide a story in which the villain ends up winning. This also applies to those even more bizarre 'trick ending' cases, in which the guy you thought was the bad guy all along is really the good guy, you just couldn't see it because you were in the guy-you-thought-was-the-good-guy's perspective the whole time. Technically, in such instances, the good guy wins--but the reader is still upset because he thought the guy who ends up the winner was the bad guy. The movie The Prestige is a good example of this kind of trick ending--and a good example of viewer reaction. My entire family was furious over the way it ended. If you as a writer want your readers to hate you and boycott your writing, then by all means use this plot ploy. Otherwise... hopefully you get the idea.
Both the issues in this post are basically matters of personal preference, but that leaves plenty of room for discussion. What are your thoughts?

March 10, 2011

Villains: Part Three

Alright, so we all know that villains are evil. They're depraved, loathsome, frightening, disgusting people, right? It's what makes them villains, after all. As writers, it's our job to create those evil, hideous people to harass our heroes and heroines, and to threaten all that is good and right and pure with their evilness.
But, more than the fact that we're writers, we're Christians. As such, we want our stories to be clean, and there are certain aspects of foulness and evil that we don't want to put on the page. So how then, do we communicate accurately and vividly to our readers just how evil our villain really is?
For this one, I'm going to cheat and refer you to Jeff Gerke's writing tips, #55 and #56. Reading these tips shed a whole new light on writing villains for me, and I hope it will for you too.
What are your thoughts on writing convincing villains without using foul language, indecent scenes, or otherwise distasteful content?

March 8, 2011

Villains: Part Two

Villains are people too--which means that their characters are just as complicated and confusing as everyone else's characters. I thought I'd take this post to mention a few of these oddities and complications. I'd love you all to share your thoughts too!
~Strangely enough, it wasn't until just last November (in the midst of my first NaNoWriMo) that I came to a startling realization: just because someone is the enemy doesn't mean they're the villain. In fact, being the enemy doesn't even make them a bad guy!
Maybe it was just my own mental density that kept me from realizing it sooner, but I had honestly never thought about it before. The fact that someone is on the opposing side doesn't necessarily mean they're evil. The character that brought this fact to light for me was really just a decent, average family man... who happened to be a soldier on the 'wrong' side of a war.
~A police officer friend of mine once told me that "there's no such thing as the criminal genius. If he was a genius, he wouldn't be a criminal." The moral of the story: the fact that your fictional villain is evil doesn't necessarily mean he's brilliant. That's not to say you should never write a villain who's smart, but it does mean that he doesn't have to be smart to be evil. The villain from my current novel-in-progress is as hideously evil as they come... but the man is simply none-too-bright. (He needs Vizzini to plan--he has no gift for strategy.)
~I am not of the school of thought that says a villain has to have a streak of decency to be believable. After three years of working with the villain in my novel, I have yet to locate a single smidgen of decency anywhere in his character. But that doesn't have to be the case with all villains; a lot of them do have streaks of decency (if it can be called that) in them. During WWII the Nazis considered animal abuse a heinous crime, for crying out loud. How ironic and contradictory is that?
How about you? What are some of the complications you find in developing and writing villains?