Friday, April 30, 2010

Irregular series at TTYU

I just wanted to bring your attention to a few of the links I have in my Popular Posts area. I have a few recurring topics that I have given similar titles, but which have heretofore been difficult to find because they did not recur in a scheduled manner. I've now compiled those three into the following links, which you can find here or in the Popular Posts list:

Series: A different value
These posts discuss different values placed on commonplace ideas in different cultures, and how those different values can be considered in the worldbuilding process.

Series: How linguistics can help you!
These posts cover the different subtopics of linguistics, from phonology and syntax to semantics and pragmatics, with an eye to how you can apply them to worldbuilding and story design.

Series: Ridiculously Close Looks
These posts are my "ridiculously close" analyses of different works by well known authors, where I do my best to track the impact of the writing back to the details of its composition.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A different value: Teeth

I'm going to spend some time in a periodontist's chair tomorrow, so tonight I'm thinking about teeth.

I look around at America today and I see that teeth are treated as a big deal. Especially white teeth. There are lots of smiles that have seen extensive orthodontics - including mine! Lots which have been whitened (not including mine). Teeth are a whole business which advertises at us constantly. The best brush, the best toothpaste, the best whitener, etc. etc. We are told to brush twice daily, floss daily, see the dentist every six months for a cleaning and checkup.

Not everyone thinks about teeth this way.

I remember when I was studying early hominids, I was fascinated to learn that up to a certain time period, cavities (they were referred to as caries in this context) didn't exist. Skulls dated after the beginning of that period are often found to have rotting teeth; skulls from the earlier period don't. Imagine it!

When I went to Japan, I was warned not to try to go to the dentist. One of my friends said memorably, "If you have a cavity, wait a year." What I discovered when I was there was an entirely different attitude toward dentistry. I saw little or no orthodontics. I saw lots and lots of people with missing teeth, partly missing teeth (ack!), very crooked teeth, etc. I tried to think about it in comparison with the attitude toward teeth in ancient Japan, where a young woman's teeth were seen as showy and after marriage women would blacken their teeth. In any case, one of my host moms went to see the dentist for tooth pain and reported when she came back that she'd been told if it continued, she could have the tooth pulled out. I shuddered.

I admit this was quite a stressor on me, and on my attempts to keep an open mind. It's interesting how much harder it is to be culturally sensitive when the effects of an alternate belief system may be directly applied to a part of one's body. Fortunately, I didn't encounter tooth trouble while I was there.

After I returned from Japan, I met a young woman who had moved to the US from Japan, and I learned something else. She preferred the Japanese way, and complained that she was always having to go to the dentist here, and that every time she went they seemed to find something wrong, so she wondered why she kept going at all. This surprised me a lot, but on one level it does make sense. It simply grows out of a very different way of thinking about the problem.

I think there are lots of possible attitudes to have about one's teeth, ranging from absolute not caring to hyperattentiveness to their health and appearance. In our own world you can find a large degree of variation, both in attitudes and in the base conditions that influence oral health. Different environmental factors like the available food and drink can have a huge influence on the amount of care that teeth need (I think immediately of Dances With Wolves). Not caring for one's teeth can't really be considered neglect if the natural foods you eat don't cause you to have trouble with them. It's only neglect if it results in bad oral health. The amount of care we Americans need to take of our teeth certainly has a lot to do with the amount of sugary food we eat. And of course in our own country oral health brings along with it a good number of related issues, like fluoridation of water, or heart disease's link to periodontal disease, or school registration for Kindergarteners.

People often neglect the question of teeth in their worldbuilding. It's simpler to create a fantasy world where you don't have to worry about tooth care - and not entirely implausible, in fact, if you think about it from the early hominids' point of view. It's certainly nicer not to have to worry about whether your potential love interest's mouth is a complete nightmare. Still, I always appreciate when some little attention is paid to such things, even so far as to give a small nod to why people's teeth look or feel the way they do.

It's something to think about.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

World Building is not just a Genre Issue

My husband just finished reading a book last night: Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. He loved it, and he thought the translation was wonderful, and he was telling me how impressed he was that they didn't try to explain everything, but actually let things like the name of the supermarket just slip in naturally to the flow of narrative.

I blinked at him a little and said, "Why would they try to explain it?" Everybody who has been around my blog for awhile knows how I feel about infodumping.

It did bring something to my attention, though - something which has been growing in my consciousness for some time now. It is this:

World Building is not just a Genre Issue.

Look at The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It takes place in Sweden. The author was Swedish - makes perfect sense. But it has had enormous, worldwide success. For people outside of Sweden, Sweden is another world. This book would not have taken off as it did had it not had terrific, low-key worldbuilding of the Swedish environment. Without a solid setting, you feel lost. Okay, so the author was writing his own familiar environment, but from the perspective of many of his readers, he's creating an entirely new world. And he's doing it marvelously.

If you want to have a really wonderful book, the setting can't be generic. It has to be an integral part of the story, and it has to have meaning, depth and life. This is true no matter where or when it is: historical contexts, fantasy contexts, alien worlds, or around the kitchen table. And if you can think through your worldbuilding systematically and make it really strong, then that will help the story transcend the audience that would be most familiar with the environment you're working with. Some might guess that a story that takes place in Sweden would appeal only to the Swedish - but obviously not so.

There are a lot of elements that go into making a successful story that can reach a worldwide audience. But I would argue that richness of world is a vital element on that list. And I'll conclude by saying it again:

World building is not just a genre issue.

My third sale!

The big news of today is that my story about the Cochee-coco, entitled "At Cross Purposes," has just sold to Analog! Because it's my third sale, I'll also be having a little biographical piece appear in the same issue. I'm totally excited about it! I'll let you know when I find out when it will appear.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Survey by Jim C. Hines

I highly recommend this interesting survey that Jim C. Hines did about publishing paths to a first novel. You can find the article here.

A different value: pale skin

I'm not talking about light versus dark skin here, but about pale versus tanned skin. This post was inspired by the following article, which was picked up by Fox News dot com after appearing in the Adelaide Now paper under the title Fair go for beauty. Apparently - and I can't help laughing about this - the Twilight phenomenon has made pale skin trendy again.

Sun exposure hasn't always had the same value. I've read plenty of stories taking place in historical England (at varying time periods from Victorian to medieval) where young girls were striving not to have any freckles at all. I personally have been subjected to all kinds of teasing about my pale-to-freckly skin because of the value placed on "a healthy tan." I imagine the skin cancer researchers might have their own issues with that phrase! I remember saying when people commented, "My skin comes in three colors: white, pink, and red. Of those three, I prefer white." I have known at least two women who took tanning to an unbelievable (to me) extreme. I have also witnessed the French tendency to engage in tanning, which can take place anywhere from the mountains to the sea (no discrimination as to where the sun rays should come from!). I have had the distinctly uncomfortable experience of seeing a tourist in France who had decided for what appeared to be the first time in her life to tan wearing a "monokini" instead of a "bikini." I don't even want to imagine the pain that followed.

This is one of the details of appearance that might slip notice in the process of building a very different world - but it's something worth thinking about.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Dialogue that Matters

What is your dialogue doing?

Dialogue has the power to make a scene feel more active, alive and real. It typically is perceived as fast-paced in comparison with description. It can create character, world, and drive for a story - or it can sound flat and authorial. Here are some of my thoughts on what features make for effective dialogue.

1. Keep dialogue unambiguous and dialogue tags unobtrusive.

By unambiguous I mean that I always try to make sure it's clear who is talking. I've read books, some by quite well known authors, where characters get into disputes and there will be a sequence of five or six lines in which it's just an exchange of dialogue with no tags at all. Now, you can rely quite a bit on the reader's turn-taking instinct. The default assumption in a two-person exchange will be that the two alternate in an orderly fashion. However, in a lengthy exchange it can be easy to lose track of who is saying what. Keeping voices distinct can go a long way toward disambiguating this (I'll come back to this), but judicious use of "said Eris" or "Eris said" is more effective and practically invisible. Another way to disambiguate is to include some internalization from the point of view character. Including internalization is also a great way to show when the pov character isn't telling the truth, without using an obvious tag like "he lied."

I've seen a lot on the internet on the topic of dialogue tags. The general consensus is that one should not use lots of adverbs like "he said angrily" nor should one use lots of fancy words for how to speak "she yelled/thundered/etc." and especially not in combination "he yelled angrily." I think this rule has to do with the fact that dialogue tags stand on their own in the midst of a stream of dialogue, often without the support of surrounding description, and adverbs and tags with special content (not to mention redundant content!) distract from what people are saying. "Said" is relatively invisible, so long as it's not used for every turn. Janice Hardy had a great post on dialogue a few days ago; if you're interested, it's here. I agree with her that it's important to vary the rhythm of the tagging techniques so they don't stand out.

2. Keep characters distinct.

This operates on several levels. The voice of each character should be distinct; people use different styles of speech, sometimes different dialects or even different languages. Their speech will have different rhythms. Each person should speak out of his or her own motives. In addition to this, keep in mind that any two people will not talk about things in the same way. Each one will bring a worldview to his or her contribution.

3. Make sure people speak for their own purposes.

Especially when you're worldbuilding, or working with a complicated plot, it's tempting to turn to dialogue to get information across. This is actually okay, so long as the dialogue also functions and makes sense for the characters. I've often mentioned avoiding "As you know, Bob" dialogue in which people tell one another things they already know just for the purposes of exposition.

However. Even if you're being indirect and slipping the key information into the dialogue, it's vital to ask yourself two fundamental questions: a. Why would these people talk? b. Why would they talk about this? If you can't answer these questions, then whatever your characters say will fall flat. In real situations, people don't talk without motivation. And even if they talk vacuously, it will be for a reason - because they're nervous, for example. It's perfectly okay for dialogue to serve the author's purposes, but it has to serve the character's purpose first.

4. Be aware of all the many things that dialogue can convey.

Once you've gotten in touch with what messages your character wants to deliver and why, think about all the subtler messages that can be conveyed in the way they say what they say. Emotional states. Social status information. Worldbuilding information. Very often these things don't need to be out-and-out explained in the dialogue, only hinted at (hidden in plain sight).

I find it so exciting when I write a line of dialogue, and I can not only feel the purpose in it, but sense the depth of character motivation and world behind it. I hope you get to experience this too.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Transition Time

I have a terrible time transitioning from one activity to another. This isn't something that I'm alone in; kids have this problem all the time. In our lives, we learn to manage transitions.

My difficulty comes in transitions between writing-related activities. I blog. I navigate Facebook, which for me counts as maintenance of professional relationships as well as personal ones. I write - and right now I'm actively working on three different projects. Each time I have to transition from one of these to the other, I lose time.

I'm guessing I'm not the only one who experiences this, so I thought I'd share some of my ideas for dealing with it.

1. Transition-filling activities
These are the kind of thing that I put under "fallow mind time" in my earlier post. If you're in a solid stretch of three hours and have to leave off one thing and go to another, try spending five to ten minutes taking a shower, or running around the block, preparing tea, or scrubbing that thing in your house that you never scrub. Keep a time limit on it, and while you're doing it, try to empty your head. You may find it easier to go on to a new activity this way.

2. Compartmentalizing
I have different types of time. There's with the kids time and alone time. There's also before school time, during school time, and after school time. I try to keep Facebook maintenance and other social sites for times when I'm with the kids (but, importantly, not concentrating hard on a kid activity!), because such web activities don't require too much close attention. I then try to divide projects between the before school and during school times, taking advantage of the drop-off as a non-deliberate transition filler. It's so much easier if I can blog before school, and then write during school, and Facebook after school.

3. Using the Differences
I had a hard time knowing what to call this one. Essentially it means if I have to work on two separate writing projects back to back, I try to choose two things that are very different from each other. Given two short stories about aliens, I try to compartmentalize. Given a single block of time, I'll try to spend some of it on Japanese Fantasy and some on aliens, or Varin. On the other hand, it helps me if blogging is more similar to what I'm writing about, not less.

4. Scheduling
For a project that doesn't seem to fit well with others, try picking a fixed day when you'll work on it. That way, nothing else will butt into its space.

These are my thoughts. Share some of yours - I'd love to hear!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

More on the evolutionary history of homo sapiens

Today I ran across an interesting article that asked the question, "Did Neanderthals ever interbreed with early Homo sapiens?" Fascinating stuff based on worldwide survey of DNA.
You can find it here.

Robot Attitude

I was at the grocery store this morning and said hi to my checker friend Kim, who was serving as queen of the self-service checkout area. We chatted about how the system was working, and she was explaining that self check-out is great when you have just a couple of things - maybe a coffee and a donut - but not so great when you have $250 worth of groceries and two impatient children. Because, she explained, if you pick anything up out of the bagging area before you've paid for it, the self-checkout system gets upset. Kim told me:

"She says, 'Put it back, put it back!'"

I was intrigued, and effectively said, "So she's like that, is she?" Kim explained that the checkout system is definitely a female, and "she has attitude."

"So she's OCD?" I asked. (obsessive-compulsive disorder)

"Yeah, pretty much," answered Kim. "She's all witchy."

We laughed about it and said goodbye, but as I was leaving, I knew I'd blog about it. These days we interact with computer systems all the time, and with talking computer systems too. The ATM might talk to us (it does all the time in Japan). The self-checkout system talks to us. The automatic flight information guy talks to us.

And darned if we don't feel that these things have personalities.

Our power to anthropomorphize is really quite astonishing, but at the same time, it must be taken into account. I'm absolutely sure that people have done A LOT of work to make sure that the computer guy who helps you with flight information is behaving really politely. I'm always impressed with him, in fact. He's polite, he's helpful and accurate, and if you're having trouble he'll immediately say, "It sounds like you need to talk to a representative. Let me get someone for you."

I'm sure there's a story there. Our assumption of the Cooperative Principle of conversation (H.P. Grice) is really strong. What if we ran into a real AI? Would we be able to tell? I've seen a bunch of stories where it's really clear the computer system is doing the impossible, i.e. thinking for itself, but I'm not sure in practice this would be easy to determine. The computers that talk to us now aren't utilizing a language system like the one we use to generate natural language. They're dealing with a microscopic subset of topics and have fixed responses. On the other hand, I know from learning foreign language myself that when you start out, you're pretty functional over a micro-subset of topics and then have to push yourself to get beyond them (even if your responses aren't entirely fixed).

I'm teaching my kids manners, and I always say to them, "If you're polite, people will like you and be happy to help you." It's amazing how much this is true. It's also true that politeness reflects on your personality, and that language learners can be wrongly thought to be bad people if they make errors of pragmatics. This principle that allows people to extrapolate back from your words to imagine the quality of your personality is the same one that allows Kim to tell me that the self-checkout is "witchy."

I think this is fascinating.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Keeping The Balls in the Air

My new novel is complex. Those of you who know my writing probably won't find this surprising, since everything I write tends to be complex and develop extra layers. So I thought I'd share a few thoughts on how I keep that complexity under control.

#1. I outline. I'm not talking about the standard-format Roman numerals and then letters etc. but I will write an outline. If my vision on the story is foggy - which it often is for latter portions of long novels until I get closer in the process of writing them - then I just write down an unnumbered list of critical events that have to happen, in the order in which they happen. Those can include things as big as "X character gets killed" or as small as "Y character makes a decision." The closer I get, the more things start fleshing themselves out into scenes and chapters, and then I write down a general description of what should happen.

#2. I manage my worldbuilding. I design until I'm blue in the face, and compile lots of files full of notes. After mostly finishing the design, I try to wrap this all together into one bundle which I call point of view. Once I have the point of view right, it pulls a lot of the worldbuilding and basic character elements together at once and lets me work with them together instead of separately. As I write, I then selectively deepen my understanding at different points depending on the needs of the story.

#3. I keep explicit track of plot and character arcs. Plot arcs and character arcs often parallel one another, but are not always the same. If there are only two or three arcs going, I can usually keep track of them in my head, but my current novel has about six, all of which are interrelated, so what I'm doing is making a list of them and appending it to the back of each chapter. Then once I've got the chapter sketched, I can check to make sure all the arcs are addressed in the action I'm planning - and again after I've finished writing I can write notes about how each arc has been pushed forward. This is information that I can then carry forward into planning and writing the next section. So as an example, my initial arc list looks something like this:

Ongoing arcs:
Catacomb/Kartunnen Ryanin/Akrabitti
Kinders Fever
Reyn/Fernar jealousy/Della/Yoral
Tagret/Imbati
Nekantor/Speaker of the Cabinet/Garr
Tamelera/Aloran

As you can see, it's pretty much incomprehensible to anyone but me (and others who know character names or to whom I've mentioned plot elements!). I stick notes on the end of each arc label to track what I've done. Ideally, each chapter should do something for every arc. It's probably okay if one or two of them don't develop through a single chapter (due to the pov character I'm working with) but I want to make sure I don't drop them for too long.

#4. I keep track of characters' mental states (psychology). This is related to plot and character arcs, obviously, but I do track it independently. Given that I place a lot of importance on characters' decisions (related to romantic or platonic relationships or to any other critical plot element), and I like to have my characters build up gradually to those decisions. Motivation is really important - so important to me, in fact, that it's the reason why I write chronologically. What a character thinks at any given point will change what they do, and thus what the story does as well. I can't be certain whether an event will happen - or more critically, how it will happen - unless I have a continuous process of development in the mental states and motivations of the characters and their interactions. If I don't keep track I will have to go back and find the lost thread of psychology where it dropped off, and rewrite everything from then on (which makes me scream and want to bang my head on walls!).

#5. I keep track of "arrows." Literally, this is what I call them; my friend Janice will say to me, "You need to line up your arrows," and I'll know exactly what she means. I'm not sure whether to call it "theme" but I usually have an underlying issue that I want to have going on in a story. The plot and characters tend to serve it on some level; descriptions will also serve it on some level. In my linguistics stories, it tends to be the critical social or linguistic issue that underlies the misunderstanding between human and alien characters - so a good many of my arrows serve as clues to the hidden solution. The arrows can be words, phrases, word repetitions, dialogue elements, events, etc. so long as they contribute to the drive and focus of the story. When I write with attention to arrows (and believe me, I give the arrows a great deal of attention in revisions because they're tougher to track in a first draft), it's not just a question of just finding a cool way of describing something, but finding the right way: the precise description that will align its arrows with the character, the plot progress, the worldbuilding elements, the dominant metaphors, the theme, etc. This may all sound rather abstract and possibly a bit frivolous, but "lining up the arrows" often makes the difference with my beta readers between a story being cool but not having much impact, and a story being vibrant and amazing. Another way to talk about arrows is in terms of "alignment" and "focus." They're worth some attention, because they can make a huge difference.

One last note: I don't feel I have to keep track of all levels at once. I bundle things together to get them going (like pov, which subsumes worldbuilding and character and elements of character arcs etc.). I don't try to keep my outline in my head; that's what the written outline is for. The only part I keep in my head is the immediate section I'm working on. I keep my focus in the character's point of view and develop the plot along with the mental states. I try to keep my arrows aligned on a basic level but if I don't quite manage it on the first go, that's okay. That's what revisions are for!

Those are my thoughts on complexity for today. Now I have to go do some juggling.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Amazing Pictures of Eyjafjallajokull

I hadn't seen many pictures of the Icelandic volcano until I found this site today. These photos are AMAZING!

http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2010/04/more_from_eyjafjallajokull.html


And on a more TTYU note, here's how that word is pronounced in Icelandic.

Companions

Companions. Doctor Who is famous for them - Leela, Peri, Sarah Jane Smith, Adric, etc, etc - but almost everyone has them. In some cases they're sidekicks of a sort for a single main character. In other cases a larger group sticks together. Frodo has Sam. Aang has Katara, Sokka, Toff (and Appa!). Zuko has Iroh. The list could go on and on.

Why are companions so important?

One reason is social realism. There aren't that many complete loners out there. People have friends that they live their lives with.

Another reason is that the main character needs help. When you look at the Avatar group (Sokka wanted to call them "team Avatar" I believe), it's balanced between different types of people. There's an air-bender, a water-bender, an earth-bender and a warrior. That gives them a wide range of skills and strengths that they can use to get through their stories successfully.

Another big reason is information management. The Doctor has mountains of specialized skills and knowledge - because he's a Time Lord! - but without the companions he'd have no reason to explain any of it. If you have a major character who's an incredible specialist on some topic, you can always show him or her doing what he/she is good at... but if you build in an information imbalance between that person and someone else, it gives him/her an opportunity to explain where that skill came from, or how it works, or any number of other things that would otherwise feel like blatant infodumping.

Conflict is another reason. Conflict can serve the purposes of information management, as when two people start arguing and that lets them divulge information to the reader that the characters already know (without using as-you-know-Bobs), but I've separated it out because it actually does a lot more than that. Conflict is an enormous source of drive in the plot. Ongoing disputes (of the right variety) between a character and her companion can influence where the story goes and keep us wanting to see what happens. Conflict can also drive character development.

Dealing with an introverted character is a lot easier if that person has a companion. You can make good use of internalized thoughts when you're working with the written rather than the visual medium, but still, internalization can only take you so far. A companion gives the introverted character a reason to try to speak - or perhaps a reason to try not to speak! A companion will bring certain topics into the introverted person's thoughts. Appa gives Aang a reason to talk out loud even when he's alone, which is very useful to the storyteller who can't make any use of internalization.

Companions also create wonderful opportunities to explore language. Some companions maintain an ongoing banter which can really add to the ambiance of the whole story. Their talk can be helpful for a story not only for content reasons, but for dialect reasons, and for the way it reveals aspects of the social contract in the community from which they (or each one) comes.

I'm not going to end this by saying you need to go off and give your protagonist a companion. Sometimes that's the right thing for a story, and sometimes it isn't - but it's worth considering. Even if the companionship is short-lived within the story, it can still be a valuable addition to what you're creating.

Chances are that if you've gotten much of a story written (especially a novel) you already have companions built into it. If you do, then it's worth looking at them and thinking explicitly about how they are functioning and what kind of work they are doing for you, the writer, as well as what they're doing for the other characters. That way you can deepen them, tune them, and strengthen them so that they're making a bigger difference for your story.

It's something to think about.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Australopithecus Sediba

Here's a really cool article from the New York Times about a 9 year old boy who went with his paleoanthropologist father to South Africa and literally stumbled upon a new hominid species when chasing his dog. I can't even imagine how totally cool that would be.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/09/science/09fossil.html

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Shape of Families

I've been thinking about families for a lot of reasons. One is the ongoing U.S. debate over gay marriage; another is that I've been reading The Tale of Genji which features a very different family structure from the Imperial court of Japan in the Heian period; another is that my latest alien species, the Cochee-coco, have very different concepts of family. So I'll come back to each of these below.

What do we think of when we hear the word "family"? Well, I think of mother-father-sister-brother. This is most likely because that was the shape of the family that I grew up in. Of course, that's not the only shape a family can take. At this point I start thinking of all the permutations I know of, and really it would be both tedious and exhausting just to list them all. I'll refer you though to a wonderful Sesame Street song called "Doing the Family Thing," which shows lots and lots of different kinds of families.

What I'd like to do is start by taking a look at some of the underlying principles behind family structure, and then looking at their consequences.

The prototypical family is based on the concept of matehood - physical matehood, by which I mean two individuals who can mate with one another and produce children (not that they necessarily do). Although gay marriages don't fall into this category, the criterion is not as restrictive as you might think. Monogamy is only one example of a family type based on the matehood concept; step-families also fall into this group with the simple addition of divorce or some other form of detachability. Families born of arranged marriages fall into this group, and so do polygynous and polyandrous family types (collectively known as polygamous).

The Imperial family of Heian Japan was quite complex because it was polygamous. Here's a quote from the introduction to Royall Tyler's translation of The Tale of Genji: "...the Emperor normally had a range of recognized relationships with women, less because of sexual acquisitiveness on his part than because he was required to make his prestige relatively widely accessible to the members of the upper aristocracy."(Penguin Classics 2001, p. xiii) So in addition to the single Empress there were Consorts and Intimates who had different status, and following from this, their many children had different importance within the society.

Other families might not have followed this same pattern. While the character Genji, who is officially a commoner, ends up having four or five wives, that was probably not so much the case outside the aristocracy. Which is to say that a single society doesn't always follow the identical family pattern throughout - something to think about if you're designing a society of your own.

Another way of organizing a family is based on the concept of soul-matehood. The change between the criterion of physical matehood and the criterion of soul-matehood is both inclusive and exclusive: it excludes families born of arranged marriage, and includes same-sex couples and their families. It also easily accommodates a happy family I know with two lesbian moms and two gay dads and their children (this one could very well be seen as lying on the border between the physical and soul matehood types).

A variant of the soul-matehood criterion appears among the otterlike aliens I created for my most recent alien linguistics story, "At Cross Purposes." The Cochee-coco are born as twins, and the twin relationship is the major organizing relationship of their society - but it is flexible, so twins who don't feel compatible can separate and go look for someone else to serve as their "twin." In fact it is a type of soul-matehood that is far closer than that of human societies, but it is primarily non-sexual. Cochee-coco can choose physical mates to be their de facto twins, but they don't always.

So, I thought to myself as I designed them, what would that mean for their family structure? Well, you could have a physically and soul-mated pair who lived with their children, and that would look like a typical family of humans. Then you could have a pair of unrelated male or female soul-mates who would live with their children, which might in some ways resemble a gay family. You could also have a pair of twins - male and female siblings, brothers, or sisters, who would live with their children. These might look to humans at first glance like incestuous families, but in fact the children would not be conceived with the siblings, but with physical mates outside the pair. You could also have very large family groups where twin pairs would want to live with their physical mates and their twins...

At a certain point I realized that this was far too interesting to include in my first story about the Cochee-coco, so I kept things simple and I'm thinking about how to include it in a story later on. I have no doubt that there are ripe opportunities for humans to misunderstand the nature of Cochee-coco families and for strife to arise from it.

One useful thing to think of when working with families of different types in your writing is to consider kinship terminology. What do people call each other? In some societies, the maternal uncle and paternal uncle are called by different terms because they are seen to have different social functions. Keep in mind also that some societies allow kin terms to be applied outside the family, and some don't. In America typically a person outside the family must be very close to merit a kinship term like Aunt or Uncle, while in Japan it's pretty standard to call people you don't know by kinship terms. In Japan the term you apply generally depends on the gender and the perceived age of the person you're talking to - a young boy would be "big brother" and an older man "uncle" and an even older man "grandfather." Mike Flynn does a great job of creating a society which applies kinship terms to everyone in his latest story in Analog, entitled "Cargo" (June 2010).

Another thing to consider when working with families is child-rearing. Who does it? Mom or dad? Or older siblings? Or the entire village? Do people keep track of paternity or not, and why? Do adults talk with children at all, or do they leave that to the older children?

If you're creating a society which uses different criteria for the creation of families, think through the possible permutations that the new criteria entail. Ask yourself how the people talk about one another, and how they think about one another. What does it mean to be a brother or sister? To half-brothers and half-sisters in the Japanese Imperial family, it would mean something very different from what I think of when I think of my own brother, and something very different again from the way that my Cochee-coco would think of their siblings. What does it mean to be a husband or wife (if they use those terms at all)?

Don't necessarily content yourself with maximally restrictive assumptions. Think about all your options, and make an informed choice. Your world, and your story, will be all the stronger for it.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Trying a new layout

I'm testing out some new layout possibilities, so the blog may do a few presto change-os in the next couple of hours. Just giving you a heads-up!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Getting ideas is a skill

I had a great idea last night. It was a premise idea, so I'm not going to tell you what it was, but I was really excited about it. I called Janice Hardy this morning to tell her about it, and I told her the idea (which she loved) and said I was psyched because I felt like I was getting ideas more often these days. She agreed. Here's how she put it:

Getting ideas is a skill.

This statement speaks to me - I think she's right. Back before I started writing I thought I had only one idea: it was the core concept behind the first novel I ever wrote, and the one which inspired me to create the world of Varin.

Only after I created Varin in great detail did I realize how many stories a single alternate world could hide inside it. I started writing those stories. Then I wondered if I had any other worlds in me and I created the Realm of Words, which appears in my novel Through This Gate (with my agent now). Of course, that world appeared to have lots of stories in it too.

So at that point it was clear to me that worlds could contain multiple story ideas of different strengths, and I started figuring out which ones would make more successful stand-alone stories than others.

Then I wrote Let the Word Take Me, my first linguistics story. That was one that wasn't really connected to a particular world - but it made me realize I could look for ideas in linguistics and anthropology, a very different kind of source. So I ran with that. I have tried to keep my alien-related stories in a consistent universe, mostly because I don't want to have to reinvent the wheel a lot of times (I reinvent it enough just creating my alien societies).

You might wonder at this point if I think this is the only way to get ideas. I don't. I've used story seeds before, and I always try to pull ideas out of everything around me. I've even posted about how one should look for stories everywhere. But I find there's a difference between picking up story elements from everywhere around me, and having a fully fledged idea leap into my head. One that I know from the start, with that certainty in my gut, will be a good story that's worth writing.

It's that that is happening for me more and more often. I'm having Japanese fantasy and Japanese urban fantasy ideas. Last night's idea was a concept best placed in the current day or very near future.

Janice calls this "exercising the idea muscle."

If I were to make any recommendations for other authors or aspiring authors, it would be not just to exercise the idea muscle by coming up with lots of ideas, but to make sure you follow through and pursue these ideas to a full story draft. Only once you've gotten through the process of drafting, revision and critique will you get a sense of how the initial story idea relates to the final product. And that's what will give you the best sense of which story ideas are really, resonantly successful and which are only just fine.

So that means I have to go off now and think about how to draft this new idea.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

This is so good you may already have seen it...

Forget about "lol," this lovely illustrated blog post about "alot" had me giggling loudly enough that I was concerned I'd wake my children. If you need a chuckle in your day, you must read...

The Alot is Better Than You at Everything

Interesting article on social policy by J.K. Rowling

This article may start out at the front by talking about a political party you aren't familiar with (the British Tories), but keep reading, because I thought it was quite a poignant statement on behalf of single-parent families, and shows a lot of principle and backbone on the part of Ms. Rowling. I thought maybe all of you might find it interesting.

Here's the link.

It makes me think I should do a post on family structure... hmm....

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Where am I? - Setting versus Grounding

We all know that a good setting for a story is important. I love to build worlds, and I know many people who visit here do, too. Sometimes very extensive ones. Of course, that doesn't mean that mainstream writers don't have to work on their worldbuilding too - they're just building a version of the real world instead of an independent, alternate world.

When we talk about setting, we talk about all kinds of elements that a world has - climate, ecology, flora, fauna, human/sentient communities, demographics, economy, social structure, technology, etc, etc. Everything we think through in our worldbuilding process can be useful to the portrayal of a world in a vibrant way in a story.

Super. But setting on its own isn't enough to make a story take off - every story needs grounding.

This might best be explained with a metaphor.

As a writer, you want to take your reader on a journey. You want to grab them by the hand (or the hair, the shoulder, or the guts, depending on the kind of story) and pull them through the story with you. If you're like me and you want to create a really exciting hook, that means you want to grab them as quickly as possible and start pulling with as much force as you can. Grounding, then, is the difference between having them running alongside you and having them pulled to their deaths behind galloping horses. If you want the reader to come with you - especially at a very quick pace - you want to start by giving them a solid place to jump off from.

On a basic level, grounding is about who/when/where. Who am I (the narrator or protagonist)? Where am I (the physical location)? When am I (the chronological location)? Each of these things can be indicated or elaborated in different ways. The reader isn't looking for every detail of your worldbuilding here - only some basic orientation that can be provided by a personal pronoun (I, he, she) and a sense of voice (who), a description of light or of nearby objects (where/when).

You'll probably tell me at this point that not every story needs all this. What about stories where the narrator is disoriented, lost, disembodied, or otherwise compromised, and doesn't know where he is? What about the confused time traveler?

Well, you're right. The type of grounding required by a story depends on the story. If you're going to have a physical departure from a location, you need a sense (even a confused, internal guess) of what that location is. A pitch-dark place with a hard floor can be enough if properly conveyed. If you're going to have personal interactions, it's good to have a sense of who the narrator is.

Look at your story. Pay particular attention to the place where the conflict starts - the spot where the hook grabs and pulls in a direction. The nature and direction of that pull will tell you what information might be needed for grounding.

Let me give some examples from my recent experience.

I was reading a draft from one of my many writer friends recently, and felt confused. I thought the protagonist was standing in one place when she was standing in another. I looked back at the descriptions, and the sentence was clear: a different character was standing in the spot where I'd mentally put the protagonist. There was no ambiguity. But when I looked back over the previous paragraphs, they were all internalization - excellent grounding for the mental and moral position of the protagonist, but not of a physical position. Because the different character was located physically, I needed to ask my friend to give the protagonist a physical location as well.

When I was drafting my story, "At Cross Purposes," I discovered that first-round readers were confused at the start. Yes, I was trying for a very quick hook. I was also creating a story where two unexpected things happened one right after the other, and I didn't have enough information to have the two departures make sense as departures. I needed to go back and establish physical location (she's on a shuttle!) and ongoing activity (they're flying around servicing machines) in order for those departures to be more tolerable to the human brain (she discovers something that shocks her, and then it turns out not to be at all what she expected). If you think about it, a departure from expectations means little if you don't have any sense of what expectations are.

I'm currently working on a story with a narrator who is supposed to start as an enigma. Reading about him, you're supposed to wonder, "Who is this guy, precisely?" What you're not supposed to wonder is "What the heck is going on?" I was quite happy with my first sentence, which was, "Of course people write letters; I knew that from watching the monks." The grounding here is that we have a character (I) who watches monks, which implies he's at or near a place where monks live. The next hint as to setting was that the character expresses dislike of letters written in Chinese, because he doesn't care about court business - that at least lets us know we're dealing with Asian monks rather than European ones. Then someone writes the narrator a letter, and the letter is composed in a very particular style that is specific to an era of Japanese history. The problem was, the hints were too sparse and too indirect. I needed better location and time grounding if I wanted readers to accept the style in which the letter was written. So I added the name of the temple, Ninnaji. That gives readers a Japanese language hint, and then optional for those who know about temples and Japanese history, is the fact that Ninnaji is an existing temple in Kyoto which has been around since the Heian era. Then I added that my narrator had stolen the letter in Chinese from "the Emperor's messenger." While that's not specific to the Heian era, it at least is an indication that the time period isn't the present day, and I'm hoping it will get readers looking for further clues - in which case, the letter-writing style can be a clue rather than a mystery.

No matter what the setting, every story needs grounding, and the choice of grounding information is critical to the success of a story opening - so keep your eyes out for it.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Fallow Mind Time

I went camping this weekend. I did not take my computer. The notebook I brought with me was a little 4x6 journal from Japan, and in it I wrote less than a page - all tiny little things to jog my memory.

I packed stuff. Drove windy roads (very windy roads, where I had to be super-careful not to nauseate my poor son). Unpacked stuff. Cooked meals over fire (and on the wood-burning tent cabin stove). Hiked.

And two days in, the answer to a plot problem just bloomed in my head like a flower. So I wrote a couple of notes down, and then left it alone again until I got a chance to talk to a writer friend, whereupon I talked out what I'd figured out, and then left it alone again.

Boy, am I keen to write today.

The funny thing is, for the last week I'd been pushing myself, up against two intractable story problems I couldn't get past. I was coming at them from every angle when what I really needed was to leave myself alone for a bit.

I think every writer should go out and look for a good fallow mind activity, if they don't have one already. A fallow mind activity IS NOT surfing the web or going on Facebook or engaging in normal daily routine. For me, at least, those things fill my mind instead of emptying it. They're a distraction and not a help. A fallow mind activity is something that requires you to concentrate on something different, hard enough that other distracting concerns fall away. These are a few of mine:

hiking
difficult driving
camping
playing piano
rock climbing
dancing to strong music

I wish I could climb rocks more, in fact, because I found the activity so mentally absorbing that I couldn't think about anything else while I was doing it. I find activities like these push away distraction and allow my subconscious to work on my stories by itself - with remarkable results. I encourage other writers to seek out similar activities, because you might really like what happens next.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Sleep - tidbits for characters and writers

I don't think I know a single writer who doesn't struggle with sleep. Maybe it's because we so rarely can support ourselves sufficiently to "give up the day job." There always has to be a way to squeeze writing in alongside everything else, and sleep suffers. On the other hand, American society generally seems to be out of touch with the need for sleep - why else would coffee shops be cropping up in so many places?

So I thought I'd share some tidbits on sleep that I've picked up from my own experience. You can apply these to writing your characters' experience... and you may recognize them from your own.
  • Different people need different amounts of sleep. Some are fine on five hours; others have to catch up if they get only eight. Children typically need more than adults. Newborn babies spend most of their time sleeping, even if they don't sleep at the hours when we'd like them to.
  • It's easier to stay awake when your body would rather sleep than to sleep when your body wants to stay awake. This is something useful to remember when dealing with time changes like jet lag.
  • If you feel anxiety about sleep, that only makes it harder to sleep (sigh). This affects lots of people with insomnia and anxiety. Sometimes if you assume you won't be able to sleep, then you feel better when you get some, whereas if you hope that you can sleep, you feel really disappointed and depressed when you can't. My husband used to criticize my "negative thinking," but especially when my children were infants it was the only way I could get through the night without hating life.
  • If you are relatively rested, then you can push through a wave of sleepiness and get a second wind.
  • If you are somewhat sleep deprived, you can develop the ability to nap almost any time - if anxiety or stimulants don't interfere.
  • If you are sufficiently sleep deprived, you can enter a state in which you become incredibly clumsy. This is when walls leap out of nowhere to intercept you and you bang yourself on every available object.
  • If you are extremely sleep deprived and running on hysterical or anxious energy, you may not be able to sleep when you lie down to rest - but this doesn't mean you shouldn't. Just lying still for an hour, though it seems like a waste, can get you closer to a point where your body will actually accept rest and let you sleep.
  • If you are pregnant (I realize this typically applies to females, but guys, keep this in mind for pregnant characters!) then you may feel an intense, irresistible urge to sleep. When I was pregnant with my first child, I used to call this the "ten seconds to lie down" phenomenon. When I was pregnant with my second child, my first child used to take advantage of these intervals to do things like teach himself how to use the CD player.
  • If you have been sleep deprived for a long time (and stimulant use may be involved in this), you tend to go into a very very low gear that keeps you functioning somehow but has very little resilience. Once you've reached this place, having a good night's sleep will make you feel worse before it makes you feel better. I tend to think about it as the sleep bank collecting interest. Your body will seize its opportunity and demand more. It took me months to get over the unpredictable sleep schedule I had when my kids were tiny - and now a sleepless night or two will hit me harder than it used to when it was doing it all the time. At the same time, a good night's sleep will restore me instead of making me feel more desperate for sleep.
I think any of these things could be useful for writing characters realistically. Keep in mind as you write how long it's been since your character last got some rest. It's easy to get caught up in the action and forget that they'd be basically dead on their feet at a certain point.

Watch out, too, for any time when you end a scene or chapter with someone falling asleep. Unless you work hard to build in tension, like them being in danger because of their lack of wakefulness, or them being in danger of having bizarre prophetic dreams, then readers are likely to take this as an opportunity to put the story down.

If you're working with aliens, sleep is one of the things you can play around with. I haven't often seen characters who have highly variable sleep patterns, but I always find them enjoyable when I do. Hibernating creatures, or nocturnal creatures, could add both interest and twists to a story.

And now, on the reality front...

I'm a big advocate of sleep, for writers in particular. I don't use coffee or tea to keep me awake, or to wake me up - which makes me pretty unusual. I try not to blame myself when I'm too tired to work during my "work times" and sleep instead - taking it as a sign that I really needed the sleep. It's hard. But I notice a huge difference in my mental and physical resources depending on the amount of sleep I've had. I like to exercise to keep myself in shape, but it's basically impossible to keep the exercise up if I'm exhausted. At the same time, lack of sleep makes me lethargic and also makes me overeat trying to keep up my energy. Sleep for me is the foundation on which my other general body-health activities rests. And being rested also helps me to avoid mental exhaustion, one of my major sources of writer's block. So on a personal note, I encourage everyone to think through the balance of sleep and other activities in their lives. Small adjustments could make a big difference.

It's something worth thinking about.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Should I write to a market?

If you spend a lot of time visiting writers' forums, you may encounter differences of opinion on whether to "write to a market." For those who may not know, writing to a market essentially means letting the market you wish to sell to dictate how the story you write will work. This can happen either before or after you have actually drafted the story: some writers will read quite a bit of material from a particular market to get a sense of what those editors might like, and then attempt to craft a story that fits those parameters; others will have an idea, sketch it out, then pick a target market and (again on the basis of reading what has sold to that market) tune the story to fit. The fit can be stylistic, content-based, or even one of length.

The argument for writing to a market goes something like this: "Of course you should be aware of what a particular editor likes before you send something to him or her. If you don't keep those editorial tastes in mind as you write, your chances of a rejection will go way up."

The argument against writing to a market goes something like this: "Of course you should be aware of what a particular editor likes before you send something to him or her. But chances are you'll be less true to your story, or lose touch with your Muse, if you try to cater to editorial tastes too directly. Your chances of a rejection will go way up."

Both of these agree on two points: 1. It's good to be aware of what an editor likes, and 2. Your chances of a rejection are quite high.

I confess I have difficulty writing to any particular market. When a story idea jumps into my head, I have to write it the way I have to write it. Some story ideas demand a higher word count for me, and others a lower. Some story ideas call for more description, and some for less. Some call for lush voices, and some for spare ones.

You could say that I write to a market now, because I do design stories specifically for Analog magazine. On the other hand, the fact that I wrote a story that Analog wanted to buy was pure coincidence. It was a story that asked to be told, and I had a great tip from Sheila Finch on where to send it. It was only after that that I decided I should deliberately look around for stories to tell about language and culture for the purposes of sending them to Analog. Fortunately for me, I find that alien design, and language and culture stories are incredibly inspiring. The fit is natural.

If you are not going to plan to write to a market, then finding a place to get your story sold will be a little like the process of finding an advisor for a Ph.D. At that point in your studies it's no longer a question of whether you're a good enough student (feel free to substitute "writer"), it's a question of whether there's someone out there who wants to work with you. It is a question of fit between what you can do and what the writer or editor wants.

I can't say I don't envy those around me who talk about writing to specific markets, particularly when they appear to be able to do it successfully. I suppose one could look at submission guidelines for clues, or read a lot of material from the magazine, or find editor interviews online. After that, though, a lot of guessing is involved until you actually manage to make a sale.

Be careful that you don't lose your convictions in your efforts to do what an editor appears to want. Many editors have idiosyncratic, eclectic tastes - you never know what may appeal to them. It could be that if your story resembles some they've seen before, that they'll love it - or it could be that it will strike them as derivative.

I believe that there is wiggle room. If you have a great story with a dynamite core conflict, and you manage to keep its drive going all the way through, then you can play around with thematic and textural elements to give it a somewhat different flavor.

I have a friend, though, who told me something quite fascinating about a discussion he took part in about international science fiction. Several of the people involved came to the conclusion that international sf was often more exciting precisely because people weren't writing to a market, and thus were pushing their ideas further than they might otherwise.

I encourage people to look for highly original ideas, no matter how they execute them. Originality can be tricky, but one thing I've found useful is looking around in my personal experience for story ideas rather than looking for them in stories I've read. Of course, taking traditional story tropes and turning them on their heads is another favorite hobby of mine.

In the end, I think it's important to write what inspires and excites you. Because if you can't get excited about a story, it's hard to imagine how anyone else will. Yes, I do rather believe in the Muse, though I think she's less intractable and more cooperative than many others do.

I wish all of you the best in selling your work, wherever it happens to land. Because I love reading good stories.

Body Models and Metaphors

I was talking recently with a friend about illness - we both have kids, so we do this quite a lot. We were discussing how to "read" a cold, to tell when we should take one of the kids to the doctor rather than just waiting for them to get better. During this discussion I realized that though she and I were trying to do the same thing, we were using different metrics for how to decide when we needed to worry.

My friend's model of assessing whether to go to the doctor was based on the passage of time. A cold that needed attention was one that had been going on for a long time. My model of assessing whether to go to the doctor was based on trends of change. If the cold had been slowly improving and then appeared suddenly to get worse, I figured it was time to get attention.

I think if you were to ask around, you'd discover that almost everyone has a slightly different model of assessment that they're using. In fact, I'd be curious to discover whether medical practitioners are taught to use precisely the same models, and whether that results in them applying the same models and metaphors to what they see, or different ones.

One of my kids' books talks about early health beliefs. These are things like the belief in the existence of miasmas - evil drafts of air that carry disease - or an understanding of the body based on the influence of the liver, or the influence of the spleen, etc. I think we're all familiar with the idea that the heart is the source of love in the body, but I didn't know, for example, that some people believed that function was performed by the liver. Or that the gall bladder was seen by some as the seat of courage. Or that others believed that Saturn rules the right ear and Jupiter rules the feet.

Different levels of technology have some influence on body models, because they give people the ability to observe how the body operates. On the other hand, it's good to remember that people have an enormously strong tendency to create metaphors for the operation of aspects of life and the universe. Rulii in "Cold Words" used his hunt metaphors and had quite accurate knowledge of body parts and their operation (as a result of his hunting experience), but couldn't conceive of the idea that it would be possible to look into blood and see things.

The aliens we create can similarly have different models and metaphors for the body and its operation, and if you use those things to your advantage, they can influence characters' behavior and judgments, and possibly even the plot of a story. If a character were injured for example, why would or wouldn't he/she decide to get treatment? How would that influence the course of the story? Would two people from different countries in a fantasy world have different ideas of how the body worked and what kind of treatment would be good for it? Might one believe that washing with soap was dangerous (as we used to), while the other believed it was necessary for sanitary treatment?

Actually, it occurs to me that a wonderful example of an elaborated health concept is in Janice Hardy's book The Shifter. Given that it centers on a form of magical healing, that shouldn't perhaps come as a surprise - but it makes for a very interesting example. The healers have precise terms for talking about injuries - "breaks," "bleeds," etc. and a very extensive sense of the body and its parts. But when they heal they literally pull the pain out of the person and into themselves, and then have to get rid of it into a type of magical metal that is a finite resource. You can imagine this changes everything about the healing process... and what Janice does with it is create an entire society with a pain economy alongside (and linked to) its monetary economy. She's taking the concept to a fully elaborated extreme that influences everything about her story - worldbuilding, characters, plot, etc. And while I'm not suggesting that every author do the same, I think it's worth taking the time to consider how the people in your story think about health and the body. The example of me and my friend should make it clear that this is true even if you aren't working with fantasy and science fiction.

It's something to think about.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Link: the World in Words

Dave K. sent me this great link, to a PRI/BBC podcast about language topics. There's a trove of wonderful information and discussion over there waiting to be discovered!

The link is here.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Cool link about ancient Pictish

According to this MSNBC article, symbols which heretofore have been interpreted simply as rock art, related in some way to heraldry, are likely to be a written form of language used by the Picts of ancient Scotland. I guess it just goes to show that sometimes it's really hard to recognize language when you're looking at it.

This is one of the reasons I speculate that recognizing a real alien language (at least without immediate social context) would be next to impossible.

Compartmentalization and Integration (Writing, Blogging, and Mothering)

When I wrote my article about productivity, I got a lot of comments from other writers about how they measure their productivity, and I was very interested to see the many ways that writing figures into people's lives. Most of the folks I know who are writers are not what you'd call full-time writers, but fit their writing in somehow. Because of the demands of my own life, I fit writing in amidst the demands of running the household and caring for my kids, who are currently in Pre-K and in 1st grade. It's a big juggling act. But I thought I'd take this opportunity to talk about how my different activities - writing, blogging, and mothering - actually interact and support one another rather than simply having to be compartmentalized into different boxes.

Mothering teaches me new things. I am always fascinated by watching my kids grow, learn and change, and I'm always happy when I find this gives me inspiration to blog. Blogging has gotten easier as I've gotten the hang of it, but I'm always looking for new topics, and my children often provide me with great ones. They also are inspired by my blogging (they tell me often that they want blogs of their own). My kids also provide me with interesting writing ideas - as sort of an ongoing research project, for the most part, but also because sometimes they suggest things to me that speak to me enough for me to include them. My son, for example, was the one to suggest that my first aliens be gecko-like. He takes great pride in that. My daughter has got me thinking about whether I should attempt a children's book - and believe me, that's quite a feat. The kids also support me in my writing, and console me when I get rejections.

Blogging helps my writing. It allows me to think through things "out loud," and question my own assumptions, as well as getting outside commenters' thoughts on my ideas. Just today I was thinking over a blog post on world details and the metaphors that characters use for their lives, and I had a terrific idea about the way that people might understand "the Pit of Darkness," which is the rough equivalent of hell for the undercaste of my Varin world. I think some of them think of it as an afterlife, while others think of it as the ongoing condition of their lives. This reflects a fundamental split in attitudes about the religion they follow, which makes perfect sense in the history of the world as I've designed it (the afterlife folks are more influenced by the "mainstream" religion of the Stargazers, while the condition folks are more true to the ancient tradition of the undercaste religion itself - not that they know this necessarily).

Writing helps my blogging. I need lots of topics to keep blogging like this, and when I can blog about story design, research, characterization, writing process, etc. - basically, anything that I'm doing right now in my writing - it helps me.

I'm a very busy person, and I know I'm not the only one. But I suppose the point of this post is that compartmentalization can only take you so far. I see teachers in my local school who cringe at the idea of adding anything to the curriculum because they already have too much to do. These concerns are real, and I definitely feel overloaded a lot. Sometimes compartmentalization is the answer - I quite jealously guard the time I spend on writing and blogging, just because it's impractical for me to be sitting in front of the computer during family time. But often, integration is the answer. I can talk through my writing ideas with my kids, and I find they have excellent views that can illuminate my thoughts. I can think writing while I clean house. I can take inspiration from my children's behavior, their learning process, or from what they're doing at school. I can blog about my writing and my family, and enrich my thoughts about each.

It's something to think about.