On Originality in Science Fiction

The following words are criticism of the blockbuster scifi franchise ‘The Hunger Games’ by Suzanne Collins: derivative, borrowed, derived, imitative unoriginal, and copied. Yes, there is very little about The Hunger Games that can be considered new, authentic or original.

But guess what? Nobody cares.

In the world of creative expression, there’s a constant fear that someone will scream ‘plagarism!’ I know I worry about that. Thing is, originality is very subjective. Also, there’s a fine line between ‘original’ and ‘unreadable.’ For example, here’s a completely original story that I just wrote:

Radisarylldon boilty eminfat quitough reever. Donnine, salanded slentereposs chinve papereing and prodlationer admitervel santendaisms agilism overgospecest. Unificanothed fortan crosphing peculatory launhis within his frowskatined auguession aggently abated impredsgusions.

“Chellightly pograpprecling,” she said. “Amsoloblook cropenom dickaggisly uistnin recomms ceptordeemly crystaing whimburg.”

“But idensiter yamantag,” he asked. “Compliceitants dobeakens adulentiones ablemeaggrify sympucky!”

“Nicampting midive elynorms. Robloardintes mooducetter mizincied barban untefuringer.”

There you go, an original story. What’s the matter, didn’t you like it? Well, why not?? It’s original, after all! 🙂

Of course, I’m kidding. I just wanted to illustrate the same point that Ogden Nash made many years ago:


Here is a good rule of thumb; Too clever is dumb – Ogden Nash

And so it goes with all discussions about originality. The Hunger Games, for example, is a clear rip-off of older books and movies … some people want to say that it wasn’t but … whatever. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that Suzanne Collins can tell a story that people can connect with. That’s what I want to do, that’s what every author wants to do. More power to her, to them, and to us.

Be original, be bold, be authentic. Be you.

 

Unbelievable Free Author Tools

A common myth among non-writers is that authors’ words just flow from some magical brain faucet with no assistance from anyone, anywhere. I wish! No, the truth is a lot more boring. Authors rely on tools and many of them are free. It’s unbelievable how many of them are out there just lying around. It’s like stumbling on a garage filled with parts, just waiting for a mechanic to go to work.

Well today, that’s you and me. Here are six resources I found and I’ll add more as I go along. Feel free to make use of them yourself as you work to improve your writing:

Wordhippo 

Wordhippo is a thesaurus on steroids. Works great when you’re tired and you can’t think of another way to say “sarcastic.”

List of Adjectives to Describe Tone, Feelings and Emotions
Other Ways to Say “Roll the Eyes”: A Word List for Writers
100 Words for Facial Expressions
Cheat Sheets For Writing Body Language
37 Ways To Write About Anger

Got any others? Send me yours and I’ll add them to my list!

Mesh Update #11: Full Spectrum

Today’s Mesh update comes from an email I received this week. My six year-old nephew has been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. He’s a cute kid, looks like the boy on the right. It’s important to me and my stories that characters navigate the full spectrum of modern kids. To honor my nephew, and the 62.2 million other people with ASD, one of Mesh’s main characters will have autism. Let’s talk about what that means.

My personal journey makes me painfully aware of how people treat disability. They usually fall into three buckets: the people who ignore you, the people who make fun of you, and my personal favorite – the Harry Stones. You know what I mean: Harry Stone on Night Court always had to make a big speech where he gives you the moral of the story. Harry Stones have to make a big deal about how your disability isn’t a big deal. It may sound like they’re good people but it’s really them making your circumstances about them. Irritating.

It’s important to remember that differently-abled kids are all around us. There’s no reason to ignore them, or act like their disability is the only thing worth knowing about them. Let’s create a fourth category: the people who go “Yeah, you have autism. So?” I’m doing that with Roman, Mesh’s protag, and his wheelchair. Why not do the same thing with autism?

One thing I realized after getting my sister’s email is this – my nephew is still a great kid. We hang together, as much as I can handle other people, and he’s never acted weird about Uncle Jackson needing to be alone or getting off the phone after a three minute phone call. He’s smart, he’s kind, and he’s generous. He’s still the same person he was yesterday, the only difference is that someone put a label on him? He didn’t change, I did. That realization forced me to go back to the beginning and mentally put myself in the fourth bucket. It’s taking work, but I’m glad I’m doing it.

In a world where the future just is, we can use Mesh to reinforce that fourth bucket. So, no big deals. No ‘very special episodes.’ Just like we can say “Oh yeah, wheelchair,” with Roman, we’re going to say “Autism. Right.” and move on with our day. Just like Roman, that character’s different abilities will impact how they see life but it’s not and never will be the center of the story.

More “How to Not Suck” Writing Advice

Just finished reading this Twitter thread about ‘raising stakes’ and story development, from the perspective of a freelance author. I’m passing it along because it’s one more piece of ‘How to Not Suck’ writing advice. You might find it useful, as I did:

Click the box to keep reading – Naomi has some great advice!

Train Hack – New Free Wallpaper

Because I love you, here’s a new free wallpaper. ‘Train Hack’ is a piece of concept art I’ve been working on, based on my upcoming novel Mesh.

 

In Chapter 1.5, our hero Roman uses his newfound hacking skills to stop a high speed train. As cool as that sounds, Roman knows that the people after him are smarter, much smarter, than he is. He’s got to use everything he’s learned at Miramar, along with his cybernetic legs and his neuro-connected computer, if he wants to survive the next twenty-four hours.

The more pictures I create, the better it informs my writing. Catching myself going back to add more detail to the story, now that it’s out of my head and on the screen. I hope you enjoy the wallpaper as much as I enjoyed making it. Keep making, keep creating, keep dreaming!

Your Writing Sucks – Here’s How to Fix It

“Your writing sucks.” I had to say this to myself today and to be honest, it kind of hurt. Sometimes I have to yell at myself before I’ll get better, and today was one of those days. Happily, that’s not the end of the story. Bad writing is a challenge we all have to overcome, so here’s how to fix it.

Like anything else you make, subjecting it to some simple quality control will shine a flashlight on what is not working. Just like a diamond must be polished, your writing must be stripped of everything that won’t make it sparkle. Where most people would hire an expensive editor, you can do the following four-step process for free. You don’t even need to work that hard, grab a cup of coffee, put on your favorite tunes and get cracking:

  1. Spell-check – Just a simple spell check in MSFT Word, Scrivener, Google Docs, Open Office … whatever tool you’re using. Don’t let a ‘teh’ get all the way to the book store. Fix the stupid little problems here.
  2. Grammarly.com – You can pay for a subscription, or Grammarly lets you copy and paste everything into a free online tool, even if it takes longer. Grammarly will examine your work for spelling errors, grammar mistakes, and other sins of the scribe.
  3. Hemingwayapp.com – Also another free tool that a best-selling author sent my way. Hemingway may not teach you to write like Hemingway, but dadgum if it doesn’t cut through lazy writing than Dawn cuts through grease.
  4. Finally, search your writing for words or phrases you use too often. In my case, my characters kept ‘shrugging’ and ‘rolling their eyes.’ I did a search within Windows and my characters were rolling their eyes every chapter. I fixed that. I have other writing hacks to share here, but that’s for another post.

So there you have it. Yes, your writing sucks. Acknowledging the problem is the first step. Bad writing will suck the energy out of your story, and it even makes it harder for you to write because in the back of your head, you know you’ve got this stinky diaper pile of words to clean up. De-clutter, clean up! It’ll actually give you the energy needed to tackle the next draft.

New Scifi Wallpaper – ‘November’

New Scifi Wallpaper - 'November'Finished this new scifi concept art over the weekend and am passing it along for your wallpaper collection. Part of the novel takes place in virtual reality, where kids use VR and AI to create something called Project November that will eventually threaten to take over the world. Their programming space that resembles an orbital data center. I hope you dig November, it’s a crazy, weird place that celebrates everything from ‘Real Genius’ to ‘Neuromancer.’ Enjoy!

Use a Word Cloud to Write Better

Use a Word Cloud to Write Better

As I’m writing, one of the things I’m afraid of is using the same words, phrases, or descriptors over and over again. As much as I love Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars novels, it became a running joke in the first trilogy how many times he could use the word ‘sardonically.’ It bugs me to think that I might do the same thing, so what to do? I hit on an idea that seems to help and I want to share it with you: Use a word cloud to write better.

Scrivener has some tools to identify over-used words, and so does Grammarly. But what other ways can you visualize the words that your readers will see most often in your stories?

As a test, I tried this Wordcloud app in Microsoft Word on my existing draft of Mesh. These are the words that appear most often. Is that right? Is that wrong? I’m not sure yet. I have to make an author decision to either leave the words as-is, or go back and re-shape my prose.

Not a big ‘eureka’ idea, but I found it helpful and you might find it helpful, too. Write on!