Tag Archives: science fiction

Many Lives, Many Levels, Which One is Yours?

Chair

The Level:

This short post, is, unashamedly, about the release of my new novella, The Level. I started writing it in Brisbane, Australia a couple of years ago, before pausing to complete Scarab II: Reawakening – the follow-up to my successful first novel, Scarab.

Scarab’s amazing popularity on Amazon (it reached the #1 spot both in the US and the UK in the science fiction/high tech category), persuaded me on this course of action. Mission accomplished, I returned to The Level with gusto. Whether this new novella will reach the heights achieved by Scarab, we will just have to wait and see.

Below, is a short press release of The Level, as it appears on my amazon page.

The Level

A man, suffering from amnesia, wakes up in a pitch-black room, tied to what feels like a wooden chair. He discovers he is being held captive in a derelict insane asylum haunted by inmates who are determined to kill him. Help comes in the form of a beautiful, mysterious woman dressed in a black burka who offers to show him the way out, if only he can remember who he truly is.

If you enjoy your science fiction spiked with mystery, suspense and thrilling twists…

If you’re fascinated with the pervasive nature of love, consciousness and the limits of personal freedom…

Then scroll to the top of the page and grab this brand new novella, now!

There you have it. Effective? You be the judge of that. Perhaps you can write in and give me your opinion. I’d greatly appreciate it!

Better still, you could grab your own copy of the book and write a short review on amazon!

Summary

The Level is a novella in the science Fiction/Psychological/Thriller category, which explores the nature of love, consciousness, and personal freedom in the setting of an abandoned insane asylum.

Future Story-Worlds

City at dusk

Near Futures

In his book, Writing Popular Fiction, Dean Koontz offers writers useful advice on a number of aspects that go into writing a well-crafted novel. In this post, I want to look at one aspect of the writer’s toolkit à la Koontz—the construction of near-future worlds (as opposed to words set in the far-distant future.)

Thirty or Forty Years Hence

Writing about our world, as opposed to writing about a completely alien planet, is more difficult because not everything can be made up; our crystal gazing has to ring true, even if it is cast years hence. It has to contain enough extrapolated but recognisable elements to convince us of the verisimilitude of such a world. This requires the ability to project and predict the outcome of trends and defining issues, or, at least, the ability to sound convincing. It requires knowledge and maturity.

But what are the signposts a writer ought to identify in seeking to create such an authentic future? Koontz offers us the following:

The Future of Moral Codes

What is considered acceptable today, wasn’t mildly acceptable, even in the West, a few decades ago. One only has to look at the issue of gay rights to realise the extent of the shifts currently underway.

Domestic Politics

Will current political systems still be defined by polarities as seen in countries such as the Untied States (Democratic/Republican), Australia (Labour/Liberal)?

World Politics

Will the U.S. still exist? Will Russia or China? Or, will a new power have risen to prominence. Brazil perhaps?

Religion

Will the U.S. remain predominantly Christian, or will another religion rise to displace it? Perhaps science will eventually weaken religion to such an extent that it becomes irrelevant? Or perhaps the reverse is true: the resurgence of monolithic religion?

Personal Lives

This is, perhaps, the most important and detailed category.

How will our homes change? Our clothes, music, transportation? What types of food will we eat? Will marriage still exist as an institution? Will the number of children be limited by the sate? Will the smoking of cannabis be legalised? Will the moon and Mars harbour human colonies? Will space travel be made accessible to the common man or woman? Will cancer, madness, disease in general, be cured or will new diseases arise?

These are some of the categories, which, Koontz suggests, are useful in helping the writer to sketch in the background of a world that is both familiar and strange—a world that allows one’s characters to live and breathe in the imagination of the reader.

Summary

In thinking about possible futures, it is useful to concentrate our mental journey around key markers that define us as a society. This post explores Koontz’s ideas of what some of those markers might be.

Invitation

If you enjoyed this post, or have a suggestion for a future one, kindly leave a comment and let’s get chatting. You may subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “subscribe” or “profile” link on the right-hand side of this article. I post new material every Monday.

What is a Cover Reveal?

Red scarab
Cover reveals are an important part of marketing your forthcoming novel, short story collection, or non-fiction book, especially if you are an independent writer publishing on such sites as Amazon.com. Great covers spark interest in your work, and together with a release date (which may vary from days to a couple of weeks), help to create anticipation in your readership.

A well designed book cover seizes one’s immediate attention. At its very best, it captures, in an impactful and compelling way, the essence of your story, its central themes and elements, its chief conflict, and projects a defining emotion.

Opinions vary on specific styles, but obviously, genre and period have a lot to do with informing the look and feel of your cover. These considerations extend to the font used for the title and other text that appear on it.

My own preference is for simple bold images that rip through to the essence of the story. In my first novel, Scarab, a large red scarab, placed against a grey background to set it off, suggests the Egyptian link in the story, while the bright lights behind it variously suggest stars, or even, spacecraft lights, invoking the science fiction elements in the tale.

My follow-up novel, Scarab II: Reawakening, (which is being released on the 20th of June next month through Amazon), is based on roughly the same cast of characters as the first, and continues the established visual pattern, but introduces the images of a spherical object and a computer circuit board behind the now familiar red scarab, to highlight important elements in the tale.

The central thrust of Scarab II: Reawakening concerns a misinterpreted warning from an alien object found in the Drankensberg mountains of Natal, South Africa. A visual display from the orb seems to confirm the coming destruction of the earth by a super solar flare, as prophesised by various doomsday cults across the world, and the protagonist, Jack Wheeler’s, attempt to find and use the quantum computer, introduced in the first book of the series, to try and prevent it.

As illustrated above, a short summary of the story, and information about the author (if none is available elsewhere on the website), ought to accompany the cover reveal.

Once these elements are in place, you are ready to promote your cover reveal through as many mouthpieces as possible: certainly facebook, twitter, your website, fellow bloggers through announcements, author and character interviews, and blog-hops, and, last but not least, through the pre-sales option on sites such as amazon.com.

That done, sit back, have a cappuccino, or some Earl Grey tea, or something stronger if you must, cross your fingers, and wait for those first reviews and sales figures to come in.

And remember to breathe.

Summary

A cover reveal is an important part of your book’s marketing campaign. Use it judiciously, together with a release date, to help promote the launch of your book.

Invitation

If you enjoyed this post, or have a suggestion for a future one, kindly leave a comment and let’s get chatting. You may subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “subscribe” or “profile” link on the right-hand side of this article. I post new material every Monday.

How to Write Story Through Character

Chicken and eggs

The Chicken or the Egg?

What comes first, character or story? Does story lay the character, or character lay the story? This perennial chicken-or-the-egg question has many supporters on either side of the fence, or, road, if you prefer. Despite the levity implicit in the metaphor, however, the topic has serious implications for the way we approach writing a novel or screenplay.

A Character’s Story

One of the dangers facing an inexperienced writer writing what he considers to be a thrilling action-packed story is that he may loose sight of character motivation. One big event slams into another, and before he knows it, he’s written a story which uses characters like puppets in the hands of a novice puppeteer – their movement is trite, abrupt, and artificial.

So how do we avoid this without sacrificing pace and excitement in the stories we tell, or, without weighing down our thinking with reams of character traits and back-story? The simplest and most unobtrusive way to do so, I’ve found, is to take the central thought/philosophy/emotion of a character and keep it foremost in mind when writing her scenes.

Scarab II

In my forthcoming science-fiction novel, Scarab II, the protagonist, Jack Wheeler is drawn into a rerun of the cataclysmic events that unfolded in the North West Province of South Africa some five years previously. In Scarab I, Jack is swept along by events, forced to react to rather than to initiate action. But in the follow-up novel, Jack has a better understanding of what lies in store. He is also haunted by what occurred in the past and driven by one overpowering question: can he do anything to prevent the suffering and mayhem that is standard fare in the world today?

This question, born out of a troubled conscience and the knowledge that he may indeed have the power to intervene, motivates most of his underlying thoughts and actions. Understanding this essential aspect of Jack’s character has allowed me to write scenes that are powerfully motivated – an important part of fleshing out an inner journey that explains and fuels the outer one.

In Summary

Identifying the essential preoccupation of each character, and keeping this foremost in mind as you chart the outer journey, allows you to write scenes that are inwardly motivated and stay on track.

Invitation

If you enjoyed this post, or have a suggestion for a future one, kindly leave a comment and let’s get chatting. You may subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “subscribe” or “profile” link on the right-hand side of this article. I post new material every Monday.

Five Ways to Increase Tension and Anticipation through Dialogue

Scarab, The Level, and how to harness the power of anticipation in dialogue.

As promised, here are some essential techniques for creating anticipation in your stories, culled from classes I teach on screenwriting. Although there are many more techniques for achieving this, I discuss five that I use over and over again in my own work, and in my novels such as Scarab and The Level: 1. Questions that are left hanging or are only partially answered. 2. Reputation that causes interest. 3. Countdown.  4. Warnings. and 5. Hope of possible escape out of a bad situation.

On The Level

In my previous novel, Scarab, I tapped into the prevailing mystery associated with the Sphinx of Giza in order to create an overall sense of anticipation and intrigue in the story. In my forthcoming novel, The Level, I create anticipation and anxiety by focusing on the ability of dialogue to increase tension.

In The Level, the protagonist, Sam Code, wakes up in a pitch-black room strapped to a chair. He can’t remember who he is or how he got here. A woman dressed in a black burka approaches him carrying a paraffin lamp and warns him that he needs to get out of his current predicament before the power comes back on. She also tells him that he has to get off the island where he is being held, before dawn, or he’ll be killed. The dialogue between them is cryptic, full of suspense, and keeps us guessing as to how it will all end. Here’s an excerpt from the second chapter:

“I can’t come with you. You do understand that?” she said.

“Why not?” Sam asked, somewhat taken aback.

She hesitated. “I’m sorry Sam. I can’t answer that question. But I can tell you there’s a generator that’ll start up in ten minutes. The power and lights will come on. You can’t be in this chair when that happens.”

“Just tell me what the hell’s going on!”

“What you need to know right now is that the power will stay on for an hour. You must find your way out of this facility before the lights go out again. There are many doors to many rooms. Many dead ends. And there are a lot of people with terrifying skills who’ll be looking for you. If they find you they will kill you. But if you manage to escape, head North. You’ll come to a small harbor about a day’s walk from here. There’ll be a boat. Get on it and leave this island. What happens after that depends on you.”

“Why? Why would anyone want to kill me? What’s so special about me?” Sam sounded more anxious than ever.

“The truth is that you are very special Sam,” she said. “You just don’t realize it yet.”

“Then explain it to me,” he pleaded.

Ashanti hesitated yet again, as if weighing up the reasons for keeping the information from him against the consequences to herself for telling him.
“You have something they want,” she said at last.

“What?” Sam pressed her.

“A key.”

“A key to what?”

“A key to a very special door.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You will.” Ashanti leant over and kissed him on the cheek.

Creating Anticipation through Dialogue

Here’s how each technique works:

1. Questions that are left hanging or are only partially answered: Almost everything that Sam asks Ashanti is only partially answered or sidetracked: “I can’t answer that question”, or, “You have something they want”. This causes Sam to exclaim, “I don’t understand”. Unanswered questions create a sense of intrigue and anxiety in the reader. We, like Sam, want answers to these questions, and so we keep reading in an effort to find them.

2. Reputation that causes interest: “And there are a lot of people with terrifying skills who will be looking for you.” This causes us to worry about Sam and wonder about the sorts of skills his hunters possess.

3. Countdown: “But I can tell you there’s a generator that’ll start up in ten minutes. The power and lights will come on. You can’t be in this chair when it does.” This sets up a time limit during which something has to happen. Although we don’t know the details, we believe Sam to be in imminent danger.

4. Warnings: “If they find you they will kill you”. We are left in no doubt as to the outcome, and because we like Sam, we worry about him and keep turning the pages to see if he’ll survive.

5. Hope of possible escape from a bad situation: “But if you manage to escape, head North. You’ll come to a small harbor about a day’s walk from here. There’ll be a boat. Get on it and leave this island.” The search for the answer to this question drives the entire story. Will Sam manage to get to the boat and escape from the island or will he be found and be killed?

In Conclusion

These, then, are five simple but powerful techniques for injecting anticipation into your dialogue, changing otherwise static scenes into exciting page turners. If you’ve enjoyed this article, and have any questions or requests that you wish to be covered in a future blog, please leave a comment by clicking on the “comment” text at the end of this or any other entry, and let’s get chatting!