Doing things my own way. As usual.

Distraction is my biggest challenge. Putting hands to keyboard away from NON-writing distractions takes a monumental amount of effort.  Once I’m started, inertia keeps me going, but starting can be harder than getting the car engine to turn over at 40º below zero.

“Try writing exercises,” say All The Experts.  “Prime that creativity pump!”

“Nope,” says contrarian me. My creative pump doesn’t need priming, it needs control. Exercises divert me.  If I start doing them, I work on them to the exclusion of all other writing. Tasks like character interviews, random story prompts, and plot-starters get my mind moving, but I have to file them under the same mental header as alphabetizing my spice rack.  Sure, the result will be pretty, but is it really a good use of my time?

I mean, I don’t use the spices in alphabetical order, I prefer grouping spices & herbs I use together, and I like having the ones I use most in front, so why bother? Same question applies to wording. Should I spend time practicing on exercises or on actual writing?

Five-minute free association writing is the only type of exercise that works for me, and even then, I have to pretend someone else will read it.

This summer I’m doing pieces twice a week on words provided by friends. I post them to my other blog space, Sometimes I Do Other Things. Here’s the post from earlier this week, just for jollies:


July 24. The word is incandescent.

I might have a thing for four-syllable words. They have a beat that appeals. I mean, one can say “lighted from within by heat” with a lot of words. Alit. Glowing. Shining. Fiery.  I could keep going without a thesaurus, but my POINT is that I like the four-syllable version of it best of bestest.

In-can-DES-cent. You could dance to it. Tossing that word into a sentence with a lot of short, brisk nouns really changes the flow and …erm…brightens it up.

The “it’s on fire” implication pleases me too. I am a fan of fire. When I was a camp cook, we did all our meals over open fires, so that meant three to four fires a day (s’mores!) six days a week for ten weeks. Rain or shine, all outdoors. We had a backup pit in the tin-roof dining shelter, but I only remember using it four times in four years. Three times were in one memorably soggy summer.

The rest of the time we made that cook fire roar hard enough to scare off puny raindrops. It wasn’t just for food either. Typically we boiled about 20 gallons of water per meal for washing and semi-sterilize all the dishes too.  (Bleach was also our friend. Better/healthy living through chemistry.)

ANYway. The best part was lighting the first fire of the day. We had a little ritual for banking a fire to be safe overnight. No dousing with water the Girls Scout way, because this was a working pit, not a campfire. We banked it like pioneers, burning it down to nothing,  burying any hot coals safe beneath a heavy layer of cool ash and clinkers at the bottom, then covering the pit with the spark grate.

Our side goal was to go as many days as possible without lighting a match. Kinda like those safety signs. “It has been (X) days since we last resorted to using modern tools.”

Imagine kneeling in the dew of the early morning to dig through smoky dust while still sleepy-eyed and pre-caffeinated, until at last you find one tiny coal withering to nothing at the touch of damp air. Your only tools are sassafras twigs, the power of your lungs, and the skill of your hands. Careful, gentle, as delicate as can be, you breathe life back into that coal until fire leaps free again, newborn and hungry for fuel.

I felt as powerful as any goddess, I swear. Incandescent indeed.


Word provided by Sue Sherman

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If I Wrote A Bestseller…

If I wanted to write a story with broad appeal,  I would build characters from a shortlist of comfortable archetypes,  introduce them with defining backstory snapshots stapled to the text like operating instructions, and launch them into a familiar plot template front-loaded with action. I would trim the extra word weight out of every scene with the dedication of an ultralight backpacker cutting off toothbrush handles.

I could make my prose a hungry verb-driven creature ready to compete with the best soundbite journalism. If someone wants to pay me upfront to do that, I will. Seriously. Want me to write a thing? Give me the monies up front, set me a deadline, I will write a thing.

Left on my own,  I would rather explore the muddy ditches and swampy wilds of wording and see what I dig up there. I like to wander, to ponder, to chip ideas out of other ideas, and to  ravel up thready patterns of letters and sounds, ideas and emotions into narratives. When I do that long enough, magic sneaks up to nip at my creation, and the bits and pieces sparkle to life.

And hey, I’m on my own. So. Dirty excavations, rocky prose carving, and tapestry-story weaving it shall be. That’s all I have to say about that.

worldbuilding header 2 Rough Passages

Real slang for an imaginary world

My fantasy world characters toss around a lot of jargon and slang specific to their reality.I love constructing their everyday lingo. I do thousands of hours of language and historical research and write thousands of words in background notes before I settle on the words and phrases my characters use to describe made-up events, issues, and concepts.

And then I don’t explain any of it. Why do I let readers flounder  if I’ve gone to the trouble of constructing origin stories for my slang?  In a word: cruelty. (just kidding!)

I do it because these words are as normal for the characters as TV or cool would be to us. No one I know wastes time explaining how cool means good, or that TV is short for TeleVision. Conversations full of concepts like  rollover and acronyms like DPS can be overwhelming, but they also make the actions and interactions feel real.

I do provide as much context as a scene allows, and I’m not above using the New Guy trope to shoehorn a little background into the narrative. I draw the line at sacrificing flow and rhythm to hammer raw data onto the page.

This is a blog, not a story, so have at it. Here be some slang terms and their straight-up definitions. Like any glossary it’s self referential. Entries use words that are in other entries. Enjoy. And if you have words you think someone in Rough Passages would use, lay ’em on me in the comments.

  • Arsenal: a combat-trained squad of bangers
  • Banger: anyone with a dramatic destructive power. R’s and P’s in the higher power tiers, telekinetics with
  • Burnouts: those who develop powers at puberty rather than middle-age. Few live past 20. Those who do are usually bangers and often end up in law enforcement “special needs” units.
  • Carnie: a rollover with major physical manifestations. See also: geek, pistol.
  • Cherry bomb: female burnout
  • Crow: female middle-aged rollover with threatening powers
  • Dip: from DPS, the abbreviation for Department of Public Safety, the federal bureaucracy responsble for R-factor testing, education, and all other rollover-related issues.
  • Dollie: female rollover with innocuous or attractive powers
  • Early-Onset: the official term for pubescent rollover
  • Flare: a power surge that accompanies a rollover exercising their abilities. Invisible to the eyes of nulls, but an auroral glow can be seen by some rollover types and appears on some visual recording media.
  • Joe/Little Joe:  male rollover with superhuman powers but otherwise normal appearance.
  • Midlife Monsters: obsolete nickname for USMC Mercury Battalion
  • Monster Buff:  fan of all things rollover-related. Many buffs keep extensive lists of rollover variant types they’ve ID’d “in the wild.” They scour public record information for likely rare variants and share data with other buffs. Clubs meet to swap sighting information, plan sighting trips, discuss the faults of the designation system and argue over validity of each others’ IDs.
  • Monster Marines
  • Null: someone with no powers/someone whose R-factor blood test is negative for rollover potential.
  • Pigeon: middle-aged or older female DPS employee.
  • Pistol: someone whose rollover power is more like a disability, likely to suicide
  • Poz: from positive. Someone who tests positive for the blood factor that proves them vulnerable to rollover.
  • Punk: rollover with human appearance and minor powers
  • Pyro: pyrokinetics and anyone else with rollover powers that cause booms
  • Rollover: a metamorphosis that hits some middle-aged people and leaves them with superpowers and/or dramatic physical changes.
  • Roll cool/Roll hot:  Hot rollovers develop their full active abilities in minutes or hours. For the first few years after the phenomenon began occurring, hot rollovers were the only kind anyone knew existed. In recent years cool, slow rollovers are becoming more numerous.
  • Rouster: military personnel charged with assisting the DPS in policing the powered population.
  • Series: official ability designation. First letter indicates primary disruption type, scaled 1-0 with 1 indicating the highest power manifestation, sub-categorized by additional letters within each series.
  • Slag: an insult term for particularly animalistic carnies.
  • Teke: Telekinetic
  • Torpedo: militarized water elemental or anyone with.
  • Whistle bait: 
  • Willie-Pete: a pyro who loses control and self-immolates.

 

worldbuilding header 2 Rough Passages

Superpowers = super tricky

Continuing my explanation of the letter-number-letter system that defines superpowers in my Rough Passages fantasy world. Part 1 discussed the primary powers. Onward to the rest of the dirty picture.

II: Power ratings

  • A rating is only meaningful within a power series. There’s no attempt to compare the “power” of, say, a B1 rollover who can see through foot-thick lead walls to the power of an R1 rollover who can measurably move a continent, or a W1 who can create a point-to-point teleportation gate big enough for a truck to drive through.
  • The number is assigned through a comprehensive set of objective tests. Results are compared to collected historical measurements, providing a consistent and impartial result.
  •  1 indicates the strongest manifestation if the designated ability series, a rating of 0 means practically no sign of the ability indicated by the primary series letter can be detected.
  • The change in power between rating tiers is even, but the rollover population distributes unevenly into the space. This, like primary series designations

III: Variant designation

Every power series has an alphabet’s worth of variations, far too many combinations to detail in a simple work like this. Before databases, the catalogues required multiple bindings, like an old encyclopedia set or the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature. The early inclusion of additional letters to define powers was a white flag of cataloging surrender by the system’s creators. Here are some of the complexities:

  • Multiple abilities are more the norm than the exception, and some power series show more variation than others.
  • The variants are all series dependent — the same letter means different things connected to different primaries. J stands for “jump” attached to a W teleporter, meaning altitude control, but it means a medium weight restriction when applied to a W telekinetic, and something entirely different when attached to each of the assorted B sensory powers.
  • Each primary variant series has its own letter/number set of deviances, and some of those have variances.
  • Series and variant assignment still relies on subjective observation and human judgment as much as hard data.

 

All in all this a lousy cataloging system, but its limitations stem from its origins. The people who designed it never expected it to be permanent. Picture the poor doctors, police, doctors, firemen and air raid wardens tasked with organizing the thousands–even tens of thousands–of hysterical, confused rollovers on that first, dreadful night in the summer of 1943. Those first responders were working in total ignorance and facing a bewildering array of symptoms. An inspired few created quick-and-dirty rules of thumb to triage their charges as quickly as possible. Accuracy and precision were not priorities.

It worked well enough to be imitated and implemented on a international scale before anyone with more sense could protest. The military and the scientific community adapted the flawed template to suit their needs and stamped it with their own flourishes, and the newborn Department of Public Safety chiseled it into the stone of bureaucracy.

It’s unwieldy, and no one likes it, but unlike the Metric system (adopted by the US in 1969 and finalized in 1976 in this world) no one has come up with anything better yet. Or to be precise hundreds of excellent proposals have been offered up, but none have been effective enough to justify the upheaval and expense of changing now.

People being people, amateur cataloguers keep their eyes peeled for rare rollover types as diligently as any birdwatcher works on an Audubon life list. Trainspotters have nothing on monster buffs.

More on slang like that later. Another time. Remember, if you enjoy it, put a like on it.

worldbuilding header 2 Rough Passages

Labeling superpowers: a tricky trick.

Today I roll out the first of two posts about the superpowers system in my fantasy series, The Rough Passages Tales.

Those who might develop special abilities are known poz, for positive R-factor potential. If they “roll over” from potential to active in middle age, the Department of Public Safety assigns their new abilities a letter-number-letter classification. The first letter designates their primary ability, the number gives an idea of their power level relative to others with similar abilities, and the second letter indicates any number of assorted variations or secondary characteristics.

It’s a lousy system, but there are reasons for it persisting despite its flaws. I’ll get to that in a bit. Below you will find a list of the major power classifications developed by the Department of Public Safety.

I: Series Designations:

  • A: not used. This letter is reserved for designating secondary variants. It indicates a pure specimen of a particular primary power. For example: someone classified P1A has pyrokinetic powers in the top power tier, but has no secondary powers (telekinesis or air control are common) and no physical characteristics distinguishing them from non-powered people.
  • B: Perceptive powers like enhanced senses, inexplicable ability to sense specific traits or conditions. The variant letters for this series narrow down the nature of the perception.
  • C: The slang term “carnie” refers to any rollover who exhibits a radical change in physical appearance. Physically deviant individuals who exhibit other powers are assigned to that series, with a variant indicator. Individuals assigned to a primary C-series designation are bascially furry, scaled, or feathered people. (See also: S-series, T series.) This Hazardous Variant tables for C’s runs several hundred pages long.
  • D: Doctor. Individuals who can cure—or cause—disease or injury by laying on of hands or by proximity or any number of other ways laid out in the variant listings for this series. Most of the higher power-class rollovers in this series can heal and harm at will.
  • E: Projective empaths and manipulative telepaths. Not as rare as the general public believes. Sequestered on discovery and treated as deadly threats until certified safe by specialized F-series pyschics.
  • F: F for fortuneteller. Precognition, telepathy, receptive empathy and telepathy, and clairvoyance that isn’t tied to a sensory element—most of the typical psychic powers. Why F? The first psychic identified was a precog, and by then someone had already assigned P, T, and E to more obvious, common, and dangerous powers.
  • G: Gaia. Second-rarest series. If it’s alive, a G-series can affect it in some way. Most G’s do not survive the rollover transformation, falling prey to the overwhelming and distorting effects of their own powers.
  • H: H for hydro. Water elementals.
  • I: not used. (yet) Too easily confused with H or lowercase L
  • J: from jockey. Animal and/or plant control and/or communication
  • K: from kryptonite. A rollover whose power negates other powers. Usually specific to another power series which would be indicated by the variant letter.
  • L: not used yet. See I
  • M: not used. W got assigned first.
  • N: Nature-related powers that don’t fall into any other designation, including air-benders and weather-workers.
  • O: not used yet. Too hard to distinguish from zero.
  • P: Heat and flame elementals without a concurrent earth manifestation. Various manifestations of pyrokinesis.
  • Q: see O.
  • R: Earth-movers, magma-summoners and other stone or seismic-based powers.
  • S: S for superhuman. Enhanced strength, speed, senses, or any combination of the three. Also used as a variant letter for carnies who are also super-strong etc.
  • T: see also carnie. T from troll. Various manifestations of skin/ height/ muscle/ weight/ strength /hormonal changes. Most have enhanced senses, all can boot their strength, speed and regeneration to enhanced levels under stress.
  • U & V: not yet used
  • W: W from weird. Telekinesis and teleportation in a variety of forms from personal and passenger movement or translocation to portal opening and summoning things/people from a distance.
  • Y: Like A, reserved for describing variants
  • Z: Elevated R-factor detected, but no power develops. The rarest of primary designations, only discovered/added after the blood tests for rollover were invented.

Additional letters — or doubled ones– are often assigned for cataloging precision, but they are rarely noted outside official paperwork. (think of the extra 4 digits in a zip code)

DPS staff with personal agendas or quotas to fill can bend definitions like pretzels to justify putting particular power manifestations into designations, and the whole set-up is vulnerable to misuse. Annual scientific conferences hold high-powered discussions about the need to revamp the whole system, but no one has come up with a better one yet.

More on that in the next post (LINK HERE!) along with a primer on power ratings and variant letter designations. For now, that’s a wrap. Don’t forget your coats, and remember to tip your server.