I got word this morning that Aoife’s Kiss would like to buy “Chrysalis.” I am very happy that this story has found a home.
Chrysalis : The Husiths undergo Chrysalis to become an adult, but the enzymes involved in the process scramble their memories. As a culture, they are obsessed with documenting their pupaehood, which is when the serious work takes place, before becoming a playful adult. Geroth is determined to put off his Chrysalis so he can finish his mathmatical treatise. He hires a human documentarian to help him retain his memories after Chrysalis. This documentarian struggles with deciding which memories, and thus which version of Geroth’s life she should present.
Here are the first thirteen lines. The rest will be out in the December 2007 issue of Aoife’s Kiss.
People ask me if I ever get involved with the subjects of my documentaries. I have a difficult time imagining that they would ask my male colleagues the same question, but they seem to expect women to be more emotional. In response, I tend to grit my teeth and answer very patiently with another question. How could I do my job if I were part of the story? Only by maintaining a sacred distance could I have any hope of understanding someone’s life. A documentarian records, but does not participate.
That mantra was the only thing keeping me from gnawing my arm off with frustration while Geroth and Iliath had their latest spat. Iliath wanted Geroth to undergo Chrysalis. Geroth wanted to stave it off until he finished his mathematical treatise. Geroth and his betrothed brayed their points like sea-lions mating.
Narrating is at once the easiest part of reading aloud and the hardest. It is the easiest because you don’t have to worry about character voice or distinction–or do you?
You do. That’s why it’s one of the hardest parts. The narrator is a character in your story and is the one that needs to connect to the listener. The voice needs to be distinctive enough that when you say a line of dialogue and then return to the narrator, the audience recognizes the voice. At the same time, it cannot distract from the story by being so distinctive that it overshadows the words.
The initial instinct is to use your own voice. This is a good instinct, but I’m going to suggest that you use a specific form of your natural voice. When we’re talking, there’s a number of different shadings that happen with our voice most of which have to do with Attitude. Your voice changes, subtly, depending on whether you’re talking to your mother, your boss, your lover, or answering the phone.
Your phone voice is a really, really useful voice. It will probably sound professional, fairly neutral, and slightly more modulated than your hanging-with-chums voice. You know the one I mean, right?
So let’s take that voice out for a spin. I’m going to give you a chunk of text to play with from Ray Bradbury’s The Fruit in the Bottom of the Bowl. Read this silently first.
William Acton rose to his feet. The clock on the mantel ticked midnight.
He looked at his fingers and he looked at the large room around him and he looked at the man lying on the floor. William Acton, whose fingers had stroked typewriter keys and made love and fried ham and eggs for early breakfasts, had now accomplished a murder with those same ten whorled fingers.
He had never thought of himself as a sculptor and yet, in this moment, looking down between his hands at the body upon the polished hardwood floor, he realized that by some sculptural clenching and remodeling and twisting of human clay he had taken hold of this man named Donald Huxley and changed his physiognomy, the very frame of his body.
Here are very rough, basic rules to start with.
Speak slower than you think you should. As you become more familiar with text you will naturally speed up. This is the first time your audience has heard the words. You should be painfully slow, in your own ears.
A period means pause and count to 2.
A comma means pause and count to 1.
Go ahead and read through it, just thinking about that.
Now, the fun stuff.
Each sentence has a word or phrase that is the most important thing in it. Take the first sentance of the second paragraph. “He looked at his fingers and he looked at the large room around him and he looked at the man lying on the floor.”
What’s the most important thing here? “the man lying on the floor.” Underline it, so that when you get there you put a slight emphasis on it. Now in that phrase, what’s the most important word? Man? That would be my bet. So a slight line goes underneath it, but you don’t want to do too much or you’ll break the rhythm of the sentence.
Placing emphasis can be as simple as putting more stress on that part of the sentence, the same way you put more stress on the accented syllable of a word.
There’s a simple exercise to make you more concious of using stress in a sentence to change the meaning. Say “The ball is on the table.”
Now I want you to answer each of these questions with the same sentence, changing only the emphasis of one word to answer.
What is on the table?
The ball is on the table.
What is the ball on?
Is the ball under the table?
The ball is not on the table, is it?
There are other ways to do it as well. You can use a vocal tremor, a dimenuendo, a crescendo, tempo, aspiration or a dozen other tricks. The key is to decide how your character, the narrator, feels about the moment. Remember Attitude? Go through this block of text and mark the attitude that you think your character feels. The deeper the penetration into the POV character, the more attitude your voice should display.
Bradbury uses the word “looked” three times in that sentence. The echo of the word can be powerful if it’s used right. Take a minute and think about how William Acton feels about each of the things he’s looking at. Perhaps the emotions could be wonder, disorientation and horror.
Another section to pay special attention to is this bit, “he realized that by some sculptural clenching and remodeling and twisting of human clay”
The verbs “clenching” and “twisting” are particularly visceral. When I was talking about words that were almost onomodopaeic, I meant words like this. When you clench something it doesn’t really make a sound, but you can manipulate the word to create a vocal description of it. If you tighten your throat–clenching it–the sound of the word will change. Find words like these and see if you can wring the vocal description out of them.
So read that chunk o’text again–after marking it–and see how much emotion you can get out of it.
What we’ve done with this exercise is gone from an emotionally neutral narrator to an emotionally invested narrator. There are times when each will be the most appropriate choice. Remember when I said about each sentence having a word that’s the most important in it? When you are using these ornaments try to pick only one per sentence, otherwise it’s like having a superflity of adjectives. It’s very easy to tip from emotional investment to verbal pyrotechnics. Make certain that you are making choices that advance the story.
SF/F BOOK COVER PORTFOLIO DOS AND DONâ€™TS – excerpt
Figure drawing, figure drawing, figure drawing! The most important thing for a book publisher is figure drawing. You may get away with faking the rest (for a little while) but you need to have 100% solid figure drawing that does not look stiff and cartoonish. (â€œPoserâ€ people tend to look weightless and artificial. Learn how to draw the figure.)
The article is very good and full of common sense.
Good heavens. Someone has spotted my journal on posted the link on a fansite. Hello to the visiting Livejournalers. I just want you guys to know that I can’t answer questions about upcoming episodes. Sorry.
Steve Savile went through Waiting For Rain and really helped me see the pacing problems and the places where my main character wasn’t active enough. Not to mention some clarity issues. He read it and just shouted (not really) questions at me as they occurred to him. I would fix the passage in question and read the fix back to him. I loved it.
Of course, after that I totally rewrote the first ten pages–sorry Fab Girl, I’ll have to send you the revision.
Here’s the new opening.
Waiting for Rain
Mundari Vineyard 2045, Nashik (India), Shiraz
Black cherry, plum, and currant flavors mingle with aromas of barnyard and sweet smoke in this solid Shiraz from India.
The sun peeking through the grapevines felt hotter on Bharat’s neck than twenty-four degrees celsius. Another perfect day. Bharat scowled and worked his way down the row of vines, thinning the poorly set grapes so the remaining crop would become fuller and riper.
Not that there was a point in having healthy vines since ISRO turned his micro-climate off. But he couldn’t pay his weather bill, so he had no rain.
Without rain, the grapevines would start showing signs of stress, and stressed grapes made poor wine. No one bought flawed wine.
He snipped another promising cluster from the grapevine, dropping it on the ground where it would raisin in the persistent sunshine.
I can’t believe it. Strange Horizons just wrote to say they want to buy Portrait of Ari at pro-rates! I’m beside myself with excitement–really, it takes two of me to express my joy fully.
Here’s the letter.
Dear Mary Robinette Kowal,
We’re pleased to accept your story “Portrait of Ari” for publication in Strange Horizons, at a rate of 5 cents/word.
Our current schedule has this running early in 2006, but that could change.
At some point between now and then, we’ll do a detailed editing pass and send you the results for your approval. But that probably won’t happen for another few weeks.
In the meantime, below please find a copy of our informational questionnaire. Once we receive your response to it, we will send you a check and contract. Please allow two months after sending the questionnaire for processing; if you haven’t received a check and contract within two months, please let us know. And please don’t hesitate to contact our editor-in-chief, Susan Marie Groppi, at email@example.com, if you have any questions about your contract.
If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask. And thank you for sending us this story!
For those of you following along, Susan Marie Groppi is my editor at All-Star Stories. I don’t know how much that had an impact on my story’s acceptance, but I’m counting my blessings in whatever form they take.
Now I just have to hope that tomorrow’s audition will go as well.
I went to see, or listen to, a live radio performance of The Hobbit that Willamette Radio Workshop did. Rob was doing the audio engineering. It was a lot of fun and the audience went nuts over it. The thing that struck me was the difference between listening and watching. I enjoyed it more when I wasn’t watching because the sound effects and voices pulled me into the story. When I watched I was more interested in questions like, “What are they doing with that plunger in the jar of water?”
(Tor Books — August 21, 2018) Continuing the grand sweep of alternate history laid out in The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky looks forward to 1961, when mankind is well-established on the moon and looking forward to its next step: journeying to, and eventually colonizing, Mars. Of course, the noted Lady Astronaut Elma York would like to go, […]