[REVIEW] Going Dark – Linda Nagata

[REVIEW] Going Dark – Linda Nagata

A couple quick things:

CLICK HERE for my review of Linda Nagata’s Going Dark!

Forgot to mention I recently reviewed Going Dark, the thrilling conclusion to Linda Nagata’s The Red trilogy, for SF Signal. This series was a real gem throughout, though I had some mixed feelings about this finale. Head over to SF Signal and check the review for more details.

PurgatoryIn other news, did you know you can still preorder my upcoming short story, Purgatoryfor only $0.99? ebook Time Heist - 2820x4500 pix 300dpiYep, it’s true. CLICK HERE and grab your copy today. Not sure you want to throw around so much bling? Well, perhaps this review on Goodreads will change your mind!

And finally, the Time Heist audiobook hits shelves any day now. If you want a chance to win a free copy, all you have to do is signup for my NEWSLETTER. As a bonus, you’ll get 1 FREE novella and 2 FREE short stories. Not bad for a days work, huh?

Purgatory Available For Pre-Order

Purgatory Available For Pre-Order

It’s official: My latest short story, Purgatory, is finally available for pre-order over on the Amazon. It’s only $0.99 so what’re you waiting for? Pop on over while it’s still fresh in your mind, grab a copy, and then sit back and wait with sweat slicked palms for Amazon to deliver Purgatory to your e-reader on December 1st!

CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS!

Purgatory

Together Beyond Death

As a Daydreamer for Imagine Nation, Jarek creates far flung adventures across space and time in his mind’s eye for others to experience vicariously through their neural prostheses. Sometimes he fights space dragons, other times he dives to the bottom of Alear’s deepest ocean and discovers what sorts of monsters lurk in the planet’s darkest recesses.

But when his wife, Valynn, (aide to President Rance Mard) uncovers a conspiracy to tap into the limitless power supply of ancestors who have passed onto the spirit realm, Jarek soon discovers that the most horrible monsters are far worse than anything he could ever have imagined.

Purgatory is an 11,000 word short story about love’s ability to transcend life and death. Featuring fast paced action filled with twists and turns, humor, suspense, and characters just trying to do what’s right. A metaphysical romp!

Time Heist Coming Soon to Audio!

Time Heist Coming Soon to Audio!

I alluded to this a couple months back, but have been playing it fairly close to the vest since. Well, we’re officially in the homestretch and in just a couple days Time Heist will be available as an audiobook. Pretty cool, huh?

The whole process has been fascinating and I can’t wait to share the finished product with ya’ll. The narrator, Adam Verner, did an absolutely fantastic job. Don’t believe me? Well, here, have a listen to the first 3 minutes or so.

Sample!

Alright, so you’re hearing that and thinking, “Boy, I can’t wait to get my ear-fingers on that!” Well, it just so happens I’ll be giving away 10 FREE copies of the audiobook to those beautiful people signed up for my newsletter.

Wait, what do you mean you haven’t signed up for my newsletter yet? Don’t you know that just by signing up you get three FREE short stories? Oh, you really didn’t know? Sorry. I didn’t mean to be a jerk. But it’s true. CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP and you’ll automatically be entered to win one of those ten free copies of the Time Heist audiobook.

Before you leave, however. Why don’t you pop down to the comments and tell me about your favorite audiobook or favorite narrator? Let’s hear it, folks!

What Sense 8 Can Teach Us About Characterization!

What Sense 8 Can Teach Us About Characterization!

I’ve got to get something off my chest. Earlier this year I wrote a blog post about 5 Reasons Mr. Robot is the Best Show on T.V.. But I have to confess…there’s a new love in my life.

It’s a little show called…

*drum roll*

*more drum roll*

*cymbal splash*

Sense 8!

Wait, what do you mean you totally already knew that based on the title of this blog post? Crap. So much for burying the lede, or whatever.

Alright, so it’s true. Sense 8 is the sort of amazing that’s hard to quantify and put into words. It’s sci-fi in so far as there are 8 characters spread across the globe who one day are miraculously joined together in a telepathic orgy of shared senses, emotions, and skills.

As I’ve been blitzing through Sense 8, I’ve been trying to put my finger on why it’s so damn good. Really, it’s not super complicated. The tension and suspense are CONSTANT (and interestingly, they aren’t always tied to the threat of physical violence which is the easy go to crutch for most dramas of this sort). The writing is phenomenal. Acting is top-notch. Casting is on point. And the world-spanning nature of the story makes for one eye popping scene after another.

But at it’s root, Sense 8 wins my hearts because it does characterization better than any show I’ve seen in a really, really, really long time. Note the gratuitous use of the word ‘really’. That should give you an idea of how serious I am about this.

Now, as we learned from Alexi Ratcliff’s Using Netflix To Better Your Writing post, we as writers should be doing more than mindlessly consuming our media. Turn every moment of Netflix time into a learning opportunity, and BAM, your craft skills are gonna double or something. (I don’t really know, I’m not good with statistics.)

So let’s delve into Sense 8‘s characterization to get an idea of what they’re doing so damn right.

no spoilers

**NOTE: I WILL AVOID SPOILERS LIKE THE PLAGUE. IF YOU’VE NOT WATCHED SENSE 8, NO WORRIES. YOU’RE SAFE. SORT OF. I MEAN, THIS IS STILL THE CYBER-GHETTO. ALSO, WHY AM I STILL USING CAPS-LOCK? I SWEAR I’M NOT YELLING. OKAY, GOODBYE**

Unique Characters

One of the first things that slaps you in the face like a clammy-handed trout (whatever that means) is the sheer number of main characters. This story is told from the perspective of 8 MAIN characters, which I mean, unless you’re writing a 1,000 page epic and have tons of room to play, this is a daunting task. But you know what, Mrs. Novel-Pants, the writers for this 50 minute-per-episode tv show have it SOOOOO much harder. Each episode follows certain characters more than others, but each character’s individual story arc needs to continually move forward and not drag by comparison. The sheer amount of juggling required to pull this off is astonishing, but the writers succeed because they start off from a strong foundation. Namely, each one of these characters is UNIQUE and can quickly be identified and distilled into only a few words.

Will: Chicago cop with a heart of gold.
Riley: Icelandic D.J. who runs off to England believing she’s hexed.
Capheus: Nairobi bus driver trying to take care of his mother who’s sick with AIDS.
Sun: South Korean daughter of a business mogul. Also moonlights as a kickboxing asskicker.
Kala: Indian scientist who feels pressured into a marriage she doesn’t want.
Wolfgang: German thief and safe cracker.
Nomi: Transgender hacktivist.
Lito: Gay Mexican action hero.

Okay, so this is the launching off point. We can quickly frame each of these characters in our mind. Sure they are over simplistic and rely heavily on our preexisting stereotypes, but this is actually a good place for your character to start off.

Why?

Because it instantly makes them familiar despite the fact they are entirely alien. For instance, from my own fiction, the main character of my book Time Heist, is a down on his luck former detective who has succumbed to heavy alcohol and drug abuse. That’s a cliché character through and through, but it gives us a launching off point. If these characters were to remain static representation of the cliché, then yes they will eventually be exposed as cardboard and shallow.

But if they grow? And show depth? Ooh, boy. Well, then you have something else entirely. Now you have characters which feel real!

Depth

Creating a deep character is hard, especially when viewed within the constraints of a 300 page novel. Sure, you have this fully fleshed character in your mind, but getting it from between your synapses and onto the page (and in an interesting/engaging way to boot) is a whole other ball of waxy yarn entirely.

Now, in your novel, a good way of showing depth of character is by making us as the reader feel as though this character has more going on in their life than merely what’s being required by the plot at that moment. Remember, before your story began, your characters were all going about their lives, worrying about paying bills, grocery shopping, and ingrown toenails that may or may not be infected. Are those things always interesting to touch on? Meh, maybe that toenail, but not the other things. (unless being late on bills involves a pimp named Guillermo, in which case you might have something).

One of the limiting factors for a show like Sense 8, however, is the fact that they can’t really afford to give each character a lot of screen time. Seriously, 8 characters divided amongst 54 minutes means each character is only getting about 7 minutes of air time (not including the times when two characters are on screen together, which is actually fairly rare). 7 minutes is not a lot of time to develop a character AND keep their plot moving forward.

How do the writers of the show pull it off? By flashbacks to the pivotal moments in the character’s life which will lead directly to the person they inevitably become.

Take a moment to read that again (I know, it’s not my best sentence ever). One of the big issues I have with flashbacks is that though they might touch on something interesting, they rarely touch on something important. In Sense 8, that’s not the case. Each flashback is showing an absolutely critical moment in that character’s life.

Think about the scenes you choose to incorporate as flashbacks in your story. Ask yourself, is this interesting? Then ask, is this IMPORTANT?

One of the general rules to follow when storyboarding an idea and a potential main character is to remember that the story you are telling should be THE most interesting thing that has ever happened to your character up to THAT point. It’s hard to care about your characters troubles at the DMV, or his relationship issues, when just the week before he saved the world from a nuclear holocaust by punching a zombie-nazi-hitler in the mandible.

Sorry, that’s just the truth.

If you’re writing a series, then you should keep this in mind and each successive novel should somehow be an escalation (if not, well, again, it’s hard to keep caring).

So when we talk about flashbacks against the backdrop of this most important event in the character’s life ever, then what we’re really talking about, is the most important event to ever happen to this character before the current event.

If you’re keeping a bracket at home it would be like this:

Your stories main plot = Most important thing to ever happen to your characters
Flashback = Most important thing that ever happened to your character before that moment.
Second Flashback = Third most important moment (or something, I dunno, these are guidelines goddamnit, figure’em out for yourself!)

AGENCY

Anybody who’s ever read a book or blog post or talked to a hobo on the street about writing will have heard this one before:
Your character needs agency.

What’s that mean? Well, simply put: they do stuff. They enact their will on the story rather than the other way around.

In Sense 8 each character is acted upon to a great extent by the plot. Some characters more so than others, but without fail they are all put into incredibly difficult situations (some through no fault of their own, some as a direct result of their actions). Now, you can either let them be pushed around by the wind of destiny or whatever, or you can have your characters get off their asses and actually do something about it. In Sense 8 (with the exception of perhaps one character) everybody gets up and does something. When the plot pushes on them, they push back.push back

This is a great lesson for your own story. Have your character push back. Do something, goddamn you!

Relationships

It’s really hard to get the feel for a character when they are in a fishbowl of isolation. Introduce other characters around them, give them a best friend, or a worst enemy. Doesn’t matter. They need to engage with SOMEBODY!

Now, in Sense 8 they choose to do this by giving 5 of the 8 characters a best friend, 1 a deep connection with her father, and 2 have deep connections with their family. If your character doesn’t care about somebody else, it’ll be hard to convince the readers to care about them. I don’t know why this is the case, but I suspect it has something to do with the fact that we are narcissistic and want to believe there is a chance for reciprocation of affection.

As Charles M. Schuz once said,

charlie brown

Think about some of the most despicable characters on television and even these monsters have people they care about.

Doctor Gregory House cares for Wilson and Cuddy.
Dexter cares for his sister, Rita, and his children.
Ramsay Bolton cares for… Okay, nevermind… George R.R. Martin is the exception that proves the rule.

Anyways, relationships add a layer of depth to your characters. If you find that your own character is falling somewhat flat, consider if you’ve ramped up ancillary relationships to a suitable degree.

Alright folks, I could keep going on this thread for another day and a half, easy (I mean, I haven’t even talked about how fabulous all the secondary characters in this show are!), but I’ll save you from that torment and call it quits here. Do yourself a favor, go and watch Sense 8. If you’ve already watched it, I want to hear from you. Who was your favorite character, and why?

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