Why role-playing is good for writers (costumes optional)

Starcraft Medic by Kim Yong SuYou see this type of writing, often, in new writers, like myself.

He was afraid to look up at her, but when he did, he was surprised at how easy that was.

 Yikes! Is right.  That was written without the experience of it.

You can improve your writing dramatically when you learn to role-play.   So put the laptop or keyboard to the side and stand up. Get into your character’s head and look down at your feet.   Now pretend he or she is standing in front of you. Lift your head.

How were you standing?  What did you see?  What were you feeling? Was it something like…

He was afraid to look up, his gloves placed neatly by his side, his focus on the single blueberry shaped stone that rolled beneath his boot.

 Now look up, idiot, before she leaves, he told himself.

She was slight, with thin ankles disappearing beneath the cuffs of her EVA that, like her eyes, were a pale blue. To his surprise, her parted smile made him feel, at ease. There, that wasn’t so bad. Now say something…

 “Hey…” he said without thinking… There, you said it… his shyness slipping further away…

Ok, so aside from the wordiness, you now see and feel what your character is experiencing and you conveyed that to your readers.  Trim it. Print it.

I often do this when I don’t quite feel the writing is expressing what I want it to. For anyone watching me, I might look a bit crazy, typing away then suddenly stop… get up and walk to the other side of the room, relax, shake out my arms, turn around and start to walk back, as if my character is entering the scene. Try doing that at a Starbucks… LOL. I write at home these days…  Eventually, you will need to do less of this as the writing improves. But there are always times you should express this type of role-playing, no matter how good you think you are.

I am in the editing phase of a sci-fi novel which takes place twenty light years away in the solar system of Gliese 581, specifically on 581 g, a planet in tidal lock orbit around its sun—a red dwarf, dimmer than our own. I had always been a bit leery of my expression of the lighting, trying to get across what being on the surface of Gliese 581 g would be like. Sure, pictures help, but how do I experience that?  Do I try writing in the dark or wear sunglasses?

Pluto_Surface_light_2It was not until I read a post on www.io9 about an artist rendering of what it would be like to sit on Pluto and see what one might see—our sun a pinpoint in the distance. One of the replies to the post questioned the artist’s licensing of how much light there would be. Instead of knocking the artist’s judgment, that clever person did some research and found a NASA site, called Pluto Time.

Pluto_Timewhere you plug in your location and it tells you what time of day you should go outside to see exactly what the brightest part of a day on Pluto would look like. So I did. I plugged in my location (NYC) and it spit out that my optimal viewing time would be 6:54 PM on September 24th, 2015.  This type of role-playing I think will provide the needed perspective in my editing.  It does not have to mimic exactly, but I hope to have an experience to recall what that was like, pretending to be on Gliese 581 g.

PlutoLightSo, as my Amazon Echo announced my alarm at exactly 6:54 PM, I stepped outside my city apartment and had a look and walk around.  Not bad.  I could see easily and it was a beautiful evening sky, everything seemed to have this softness to it, an attribute I had not considered.   I cannot stress how valuable this experience was for me, as I now trail behind my characters, following them on their trek and seeing what they are seeing. Costumes, optional.

SpectralTypeFor any AstroProgrammers out there reading this, it would be great to take the Pluto-Time model and expand it for other star-types, etc.  For example:  You select from a series of dropdown menus a star type and distance away, and it asks for you to enter in your location and it spits out what time of day to go outside, which closely resembles what the lighting might be like. 😉

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Using wattpad’s visual feedback.

Metrics_AHere is a good visual tip on how your W.I.P is being received. It’s a great way to see where you might have some stalling in your storyline and where the peaks and valleys are. I am going to use this from now on.

I am using WattPad.com as a proving ground. There is great readership here and the feedback is always helpful and constructive. When you post your work, you can view the metrics of that work. I am finding it helpful to know where to place chapter breaks or what sections I might need to inject a bit of excitement or build character. If you see your readership drop significantly after the first part, you know you need to do one of a few things: Start out running, or become a better writer (LOL).Metrics_C

Here is an example of a short story I wrote, called “From Europa with love.” I divided the story into five parts to see how the sections were being received. The feedback was awesome and exactly what I would have predicted. You will notice that readership starts to wane after Part 3 (but by then I already had a good following to this short). This feedback was so informative to me, because part 4 is where the storyline shifts and part 3 sets up for that. The graph was spot on to what I would have expected. I think I need to go back into part 3 and set a few more hooks.  I will definitely use this methodology for my novel.

Metrics_B

I’m a believer.

What are your characters wearing these days, in space and once they get to their destination?

davaI was reminded by a G+ post, by Ralph Roberts, of the brilliant Dava Newman and her recent appointment to NASA.  

When writing Sci-fi, think about what your characters are wearing, in space.  I had viewed a TED presentation by Dava Newman, of her work, on EVA design.  It was such a valuable visual for me during a recent series I wrote called Kulcin’s Law, avalable on www.Offworlders.com.  These were the suits I envisioned my astronauts were wearing, becasue I wanted them to move effortlessly and not have to explain getting in and out of their EVAs.  Below is Dava’s TED talk.

Dava Newman on TED

 

Then, when your crew gets to their destination, you might want to check out the latest fashion ETs are wearing these days:  Check out these possible Sci-Fi fashion statements.

 

 

 

Don’t miss the little stuff

I had just finished writing a sci-fi serial on OffWorlders.com called, Kulcin’s Law, where most of the story takes place in Jupiter’s realm, with several flights in and out of Europa’s orbit.  I missed a bit of detail that would have been a nice morsel to the hard core readers and that was a simple line taking into account the ship’s roll on approach.

This gif taught me a lesson, that even though I can’t go there, my mind can.  Don’t miss the little stuff.

Click on this animated GIF of Saturn and see what I am referring to.

 

 

 

New techniques for discovering planets, like our own.

For those of us writing about distant planets, the question always comes up, how real is this going to be for my readers?  I am faced with this exact question in my current work and I want it to be as plausible as I can make it.  So after watching this fantastic lecture by Sara Seager, I now have some real science to weave into my WIP.

Surfing 1/3 the speed of light on the crest of a black hole

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Here is another Tech Tip for the hard core sci-fi writer to make your space travel, plausible.  And don’t forget, you need the ability to slow down, so using the concept, you can sail into the solar wind.

http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-31556326

You can read the full abstract in Science Magazine.

http://m.sciencemag.org/content/347/6224/860

When writing about space travel, seeing is believing

This is such an excellent video for a writer to get an idea of what traveling through space, at the speed of light, might be like.   However, there is a paradox here. If you were traveling at the speed of light, you would not have a concept of time or speed; but as a writer, you are trying to describe it.

What put things in perspective for me, was at the 8:23 mark, when Earth and the Moon come into play. That, you can write about. The rest is so abstract, but gives you an idea of just how vast the universe is. Light seems slow in comparison.

Click here to read the full article

Click here to learn more about the artist, Alphonse Swinehart

Click on the image below to play the video and sit back for 45 minutes.