2. Worldbuilding Authoring characters Writing Life

A story about rediscovering a story

3+ years ago, I wrote a 600-word scenelet/start of a potential new midlife superpowers story. I shared it with a couple of people, then promptly forgot the filename, where I saved it, and even what application I wrote it in.

As one does, if one is me.

Once I finished Sharp Edge of Yesterday, I went hunting for this one writing snippet. It had been stuck in my head it–not in any detail, but in a hazy “this was a fun bit, might be useful later” way–and I like to revisit ideas like that, the same way I like to pull a particular shiny stone out of my rock collection to see if it’s as pretty as I remember it being.

(Ideas really are like shiny rocks. But I digress.)

I had a gut feeling this snippet would make a good springboard into the sequel for Sharp Edge of Yesterday. But I needed to read it over and check all its facets to be sure.

I Could. Not. Find. It.

I checked through all my document folders on both my computers. Nothing. I tried various keyword searches online on this blog and on my social media, in case that’s where I’d decided to write it for reasons surpassing understanding. Nothing. It didn’t help that I couldn’t recall what I’d named the characters, or if I’d used any place names. Search engines don’t do well with mental impressions of actions and dialogue.

I began to wonder if I’d ever actually written it, or only hashed through the concepts in my head and thought about writing it. Except — I remembered people commenting on it. Maybe I dreamed that too? No. It had to be somewhere.

The bigger problem was that I was kinda stuck on starting anything in the Rough Universe until I found it. It’s been my periodic quest for months now, a nagging little frustration I would pick at between other activities.

Oh, sure, I could’ve always tried to rewrite it from scratch. Only 600ish words. A few manuscript pages. PFfft. Nothing, right?

But I knew I wouldn’t be able to capture exactly the same scene, the same way. And I’m stubborn. This was the piece I wanted. Not any other shiny rock. THIS ONE. So I kept hunting and hoping. Until today.

<cue inspiring music>

Today I finally hit on the right keyword combo in the right place. (Road kill, in case you’re wondering, and I wrote it in a blog post from the end of 2018. VICTORY IS MINE! I FOUND MY LONG-LOST STORY SNIPPET.

And my instincts on rewriting from scratch were correct — I never would’ve come up with the details that made it stick with me if I’d tried to re-do it. Side note: it’s a perpetual mystery to me how well my brain can retain the vivid impression details make on it, but totally blank out the details themselves. BRAINS ARE WEIRD.

Anyway. The POINT is, at last I can expand on this and decide how it’s going to fit into the sequel to Sharp Edge. I have found my new shiny, and now I shall play with it.

Because a frazzled, frizzy-haired Midwestern auntie who wakes up with a necromantic superpower HAS to go into the next book. It just does.

Until later! That’s all for now.

Authoring characters Promotion Writing Life

I promised a character portrait post. Here it be.

This could also be titled My First Attempt At Photoshop. (see the end of the post for more on the how of it all) I’ll be using color copies of these as my Gen Con table backdrop, and if they aren’t a flop, I’ll do several more and get properly-printed versions or maybe even fabric-print them.

Art makes me happy.

First, I present to you the Rough Passages Gallery. I have enough art to do several more, but these are the only ones I’ve finished so far.

And below you can feast your eyes on the Restoration Gallery. I still need character art for Felicity, Pete, Neil and Dan to make this a complete set, but I’ll have to sell more books to justify it. Author goals!

Note: the images I used for these were all commissioned pieces I’ve collected over the years. The talent of all these artists never fails to amaze me. I credit them each individually on the character pages here on the website. I’ll try to add links in this post later this year when I have…ugh time and more brainpower to deal with website formatting.

1. Storysculpting 2. Worldbuilding Authoring characters Promotion Reblogged

I wander off on a guest-posting adventure

If you aren’t reading Jen Ponce’s books & following her Oogy Monsters blog yet, you should be. I was honored with an invitation to write a little something to post there, and this happened. I might have ranted a little. Big surprise.

This Monday, author KM Herkes talks about her brand of strong women. You’ll want to give it a read!

via KM Herkes–writer of kickass heroines with power. Part One! — Jen Ponce

2. Worldbuilding characters nuts & bolts

Making Superpowers Make Sense

Many of the issues with superpowers boil down to one question: are they science or magic?

Since the Rough Passages Tales take place in a modern world built on scientific guiding principles, people attempt to explain superpowers. But I show them failing, over and over. It’s an acknowledged truth in my world that the models are all flawed, and the answers are always changing. (Which, come to think of it, is a fairly accurate portrayal of scientific development. Will my scientists ever resolve the mysteries? I’m not saying.)

The tricky part is how to much to show and tell. The more unreal a power is, the more I will research it and the less I will explain. As a reader I don’t like drowning in hows. They distract me. Plus honestly, when it comes to speculative fiction, less is more. Process is much easier to screw up than basic principles and premises.

I like Clarke’s Third Law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.  Twelve-foot-tall humanoids with super-strength and nigh-invulnerable bodies (for example)  can’t be explained by current models of physics, biology or anything else, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be.

I put countless hours into conceptual development and reading relevant research. (Ask Spouseman about one hours-long walk and discussion about population-level statistics…) Then I develop plausible mechanisms for unnatural abilities. Plausible means they’re logical, internally consistent and don’t violate known scientific principles, not that they make any sense according to currently-known processes.

And then I find a million little ways to dish out that huge pool of data in tiny spoonfuls.  I might insert a villain using a wind blast to disrupt a winged air elemental who flies by creating her own localized lift. Or a character might tease a giant friend for eating daily briefing papers after reading them.

I want to avoid drowning readers in long treatises on the theory of elemental powers and universal vibration-tuning or other such malarkey. This is how I interpret the hoary old writer’s advice show, not tell. If it isn’t embedded, it doesn’t get shown. The more unreal something is, the more I will think and the less I will show. How does the air elemental control air? Not gonna touch that. They do. Premise accepted or not, reader’s choice.

Think that’s unrealistic?  When was the last time you pondered the miracle of your refrigerator’s inner workings upon grabbing a cold drink?  Or your car. You turn a key or press a button, and engine magic happens. You don’t spend two minutes thinking about internal combustion and fuel injection. Well. I don’t, anyway.

So I don’t bog down my stories writing about processes I would have to break science to explain in detail

True confession rant: I am so TIRED of fiction breaking science. Triple helix DNA. Mutating neutrinos. Reverse-pulse-magnetism. (whut?!)  Diseases “deciding” to evolve. Cauterizing big, bleeding surface wounds. <sound of broken weeping> I’m begging here. Run a quick fact-check before passing on science myths, and if you can’t explain your faux-science premise without putting vocabulary in a blender and making meaningless word porridge,  DON’T TRY!

Keeping it simple is the best way to keep it real.


2. Worldbuilding Authoring characters nuts & bolts

Yes, But What Do They Eat?

Life in a super-powered world gets complicated. Speculation is an entertaining playground. Yes, there are big questions to answer, but I prefer to ponder issues that would affect people’s daily lives.  What kind of house paint would work for people who exhale acid gasses? How would the fashion industry cater to scales and tails?

Then there are the scientific conundrums. Elena is five feet tall.  Jack tops eight feet. Amy stands twelve foot-plus. They’re all humanoid, and that’s a problem. If they’re all built on the same framework of bone & sinew, supplied by the same nerve impulses and fueled by the same basic digestive system, the math doesn’t work. Physics and biology both shake their heads and say NOPE. Human bodies don’t scale up well.

And yet, no one would need proof that it works. They see it. They live it. So there’s no reason to explain in detail how joints have to be designed to support that much weight, how musculature would attach, etc, etc, zzzzzzz.* It isn’t story fodder. Oh, sure. Someone in Rough Passages America studies it. Someone is doing a thesis. But wouldn’t be a daily challenge to life, and I’m not writing about puzzled, frustrated scientists right now.

Other mundane details make fabulous story elements. Here’s one: how does someone as big as Jack or Amy survive in a modern world? What do they eat? That’s a point I addressed because it would be an unavoidable problem and a potentially funny one.

Research proved it wouldn’t be easy. Vegetarian animals have to spend up to 80% of their time fueling their bodies off nutrient-poor, high fiber food. And think of the elimination. Not a fun way for a civilized sentient to live.  Going with the carnivore model, we can look at tigers (which are roughly Jack’s size) and we find they burn through 8,000+ calories a day of nutrient-dense meat. And that’s on a lifestyle that sees them lounging around doing nothing 14-16 hours a day to conserve energy. Again, not a sustainable way of life in the modern human world.

My big T-series powerhouses have to be able to act and work with normal human soldier. So what do they  eat? Short answer: nothing and everything.

Under average circumstances their bodies are fueled by the same power that made them roll over in the first place.**  They channel and store that energy at a cellular level on instinct. Ah, but when they need more than they can tap from the environment or pull from their body’s reserves? Then their digestive tracts can break down pretty much anything at the molecular level as effectively as a blast furnace. They convert the resulting energy directly to cellular energy or mass as needed.

How?  Well, they don’t know, so I’m not telling. Ha.***  But think of the entertaining aspects. They don’t have to eat a lot normally. But when they do eat, they’ll eat whatever’s handy. A side of raw beef.  Rocks. Driftwood. Newspaper.

Why do I come up with ideas like this? Blame my analytic background. And the opportunities for humor.

That’s the best part of world-building for me. I hope you enjoy the results as well.

Want to see T-series powers in action? I recommend you read Rough Passages, available on Amazon & elsewhere in print & ebook.

There. Mandatory book plug done. Happy reading.


*  I can provide examples if challenged. I do the research. Animals as big as Amy have existed throughout history–even bipedal ones.  Cave bears, anyone? So it could work.

**there’s a whole ‘nother post full of authorial hand-waving on that topic.

*** I do have an explanation. It ties into the whole basis for what made the world change back on First Night,  but it gets into the snore-bore explication zone fast. And I steer clear of that quagmire.