IWSG/Worldbuilding Wednesday: Original Enough?

Insecure Writers’ Support Group: Original Enough?

Have you ever felt that your worldbuilding wasn’t really original enough? I’ve read some works like that: a sci-fi where people had phasers and answered to ‘The Federation’ and had transporter beams that were called transporter beams…. It was really just a Star Trek fanfic without the beloved Star Trek characters.
But what if you try to be totally original on every possible aspect of worldbuilding? To the point where your characters are wearing their shoes on their heads, as hats? That goes past the point of ‘too original’ all the way to ‘peculiar stuff no one will read.’
What a reader, particularly a genre reader, is looking for is a reading experience that will be ‘the same, but different.’ What produces that, in worldbuilding, is to have some things that are familiar from other stories in the genre, some things that are similar-but-different, and some things that may well be unique to your work. That reduces the burden on those would-be writers that feel they aren’t original enough.
In my own work, I have a Terran space fleet sort of like Starfleet in Star Trek. But the civilian authority they answered to— a disaster similar to the United Nations— disbanded and the Fleet is on its own. No civilian authority, no taxpayers to pay the bills. So the ships of the Fleet carry cargo and escort cargo ships to earn their pay.

Worldbuilding Wednesdays: Judicial System

In my world for my current WIP, this comes out to being about interplanetary law. This is not a nice-and-neat category. One major authority is the Interplanetary Humanoid Archive. They classify the different humanoid races and their classification determines whether a humanoid race is able to colonize a planet by themselves or just a part of a planet. They keep records on claims made by the different races. This is useful since some humanoid races have been exploring space for a very long time and records can show whether a planet occupied by humanoids is its own thing or a failed colony from long ago.
Another authority for interplanetary law is the Fleet. The Fleet uses certain space stations and planets as regular stops for their ships. They insist on certain things in the law of these space stations and planets. They don’t want to do business with a place that thinks it’s OK to steal their stuff.
Tiberius Base, being a space city under construction, does not have its judicial system fully put together yet. Right now Fortunate Dragon, the corporation building the station, makes its own rules. But Fortunate Dragon is under the authority of the Terran interplanetary national entity called the Interplanetary People’s Republic which has a system similar to modern-day Communist China. Since business is important to them, they don’t enforce communist policy in free-trade districts as Tiberius Base will be when completed. They look to having freedom of speech and freedom of religion on the Base even though these conditions don’t prevail in other parts of their interplanetary nation.

This has been a post in the Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog hop. AND in the Worldbuilding Wednesdays blog hop. Please visit the links for more information on the blog hops in question.

Book recommendations: I have been working through K. M. Weiland’s Outline Your Novel Workbook, which has been very helpful in getting to know my characters and my story. I have also purchased K. M. Weiland’s Structure Your Novel Workbook and hope that also will be useful. As I have Asperger Syndrome I am VERY disorganized and have not had much success in organizing my ideas into a complete novel. (It’s why I write poetry.) I am hopeful these books will help me upgrade my outlining and structuring skills.


Do I really need to learn Chinese to write this character? & Celebrate

Right now I am occupied with outlining a science fiction novel, Tiberius Base. I’ve written some 51 pages, by hand, in a composition book. I’m following the instructions in K. M. Weiland’s Outlining your Novel Workbook, and so far it has been useful in developing characters, particularly the main character, a junior administrator at a starbase-under-construction, Ping Yuan.

I’ve been having an impulse to learn a little Chinese as a result. Chinese is the character Ping Yuan’s native language though he is fluent in interplanetary Trade Languages like Esperanto and Volapuk.

Foreign languages are kind of a Special Interest of mine, and I try to keep them under control— ‘you can’t buy a beginning Italian book until you have finished the beginning Serbian book.’ But I’ve also come to understand that starting a language project is one method I use to relate to fictional characters.

As a kid I was a massive Star Trek TOS fan—  before Star Trek needed initials. I particularly liked the junior officers, Sulu, Uhura and Chekov. As a result at various times I tried to learn Japanese, Swahili and Russian. Not a lot of results, but I do know the Swahili word for toilet and learned to identify Japanese writing from Chinese or Korean at an early age. I even know a few words of Russian, including one naughty word.

I have at various times used similar approaches to characters of my own creation. I have also deliberately given characters a certain linguistic background to match a language I was at the time interested in.

In my current project I’ve done some of that. Esperanto, a language which is a long term interest of mine (I have read books in it), is the Trade Language most used in my setting. I made some characters native speakers of German, which is my own ancestral language and one I studied in college. I can also read in German.

The character Ping Yuan was made Chinese for story-related reasons— he needs to be a communist-style ‘scientific atheist’ because another major character is a Catholic priest. But I think that learning a bit of Chinese does help— I’ve signed up for the Chinese lessons on a free language learning site and ordered the book that goes with the 50Languages free audio lessons.

Question: Do I think language learning in general is a good way for writers to relate to characters? It depends a lot on the writer. And on the character. But the language learning process can help you relate, and you will probably learning bits and pieces of your character’s culture as well. You might give it a try especially if your character’s culture is different from yours. (Or if you are a German-American like me, your character is too, and you’ve never tried learning a little German.)

This is also my Celebrate the Small Things blog hop post. As of this week it still seems like blog hop host Lexa Cain is not feeling well enough to participate, so prayers for her are still in order.

My celebration this week is about the 50 Languages free language learning materials. I discovered this years ago. It is sponsored by the Goethe Institute which used to encourage people to learn German. The 50 languages thing is really quite clever. The lessons are translated into the languages, and the learner picks out two— his own native language and the language he wants to learn— and can download the paired two-language audios. So— I can download some Chinese lessons with an English translation, but some Dutch speaker who wants to take Arabic lessons can get audios for that, too. It’s very helpful and great for homeschooling families who want to teach a language.

Worldbuilding Wednesdays: Interior Design

It’s our worldbuilding bloghop day, and these week’s topic is ‘Interior Design.’ To see more about the blog hop visit Rebekah Loper’s blog at: http://rebekahloper.com/

Interior design. Well, my space city Tiberius Base is full of interiors. The characters COULD go outside and play but they’d have to wear spacesuits to avoid unfortunate consequences and no one wants to wear spacesuits.

The culture of Tiberius Base has not yet been established. Most of the people on the Base at story-begin are hired construction crews who are about to move on, and an administrative staff who works for Fortunate Dragon company.

Our main character, Ping Yuan, has a rather spartan apartment. He is lucky to be high enough in rank to have his own quarters. Lower-ranked unmarried persons are assigned to a communal dormitory. Since the company wants everyone working on the station to marry and have kids, marriage will provide an employee with the right to larger quarters.

The living spaces on the station are quite plain until a finishing crew works on them. They handle ‘interior design’ tasks as well as putting up walls to divide larger living quarters into rooms. Ping has not bothered to have his own quarters ‘finished’ since he hopes to marry sometime in the near future and will be changing quarters.

The Base is about to obtain some 400 low-level workers to do various tasks for the company and for the private enterprises beginning to be established on the station. These workers are pre-sorted by the labor provider so that groups of workers with the same native language and culture can be obtained. It is assumed that the workers will bring their own culture along with them. The company approves of that. Culture helps unite the inhabitants of a space city.

Individuals who arrive at the Base early in its existence can have their quarters fitted out to their own preferences by the finishing crew. Computer designs are available reflecting many cultures. It is also possible to purchase home decor items from shops, most of which are on the Dock level at the early stage.

There are some aliens living on the Base. Some are Tsanans who mostly look like balls of colored light. They can teleport, and no one is quite sure where they live or what they eat. There is a family of Mender merchants who have quite fine quarters and offices for their business, made out in Mender cultural fashion. There is also a Lizard and his staff. He has been assigned quarters which he decorates to his own specifications. He has an interest in Terran history especially the American Civil War. One of his ancestors was on Earth at the time and fought for the Confederacy. Other Lizards fought for the Union. When the South surrendered at Appomattox, the Lizards on the two sides wanted to keep fighting. The feud continues to this day.

Most of the workers about to be obtained at story-begin are Catholic Christians. Fortunate Dragon company is cool with this even though atheism is encouraged among their own people. The company provides a crucifix for all living quarters of these workers. They even turned a half-finished structure that was intended to be a museum of atheism into a Catholic church. They were very disappointed when they discovered they could not plant audio ‘bugs’ in the confessional.

Businesses also use the services of the finishing crew to create a unique look. There is an Asian vegetable-noodle shop that has a lot of Korean-style artifacts on display, based on the culture of the owner of the place. Ping, our main character, spends a lot of time at that noodle shop, because the girl he likes works there.

The Base is in a stage of transition right now, and the story, among other things, tells the story of how the people living on the station manage to form a functional community.

Foreign influences: alien artifacts are sometimes collected as a hobby. American artifacts such as American flags and portraits of most-admired presidents like Washington, Adams, Lincoln and Reagan are displayed by Terrans of many cultures to signal admiration for American-style democratic republics and American-style multiethnic nations. (Many America-admirers can sing the American national anthem in their own native languages.)

My current effort on my writing projects involve creating an outline using author K. M. Weiland’s book Outlining Your Novel Workbook. The Workbook is full of useful questions to answer to explore your proposed story in enough depth to know what to put in an outline. I have written 45 or so pages in a composition book so far doing this and I have made some useful additions to my story idea as a consequence.



Keto Living: Dana Carpender’s new Fat Fast Cookbook

Dana Carpender the Low-Carb/Keto cookbook author had come out with her second Fat Fast cookbook and so of course I ordered a copy. I loved her other Fat Fast cookbook.

What is a fat fast? It’s not a real fast as taught by Jimmy Moore and Dr. Jason Fung in the Complete Guide to Fasting. Fat fasting is a temporary restricted diet designed by Dr. Robert Atkins, author of The Atkins Diet Revolution. The Fat Fast was designed for patients who were already on Atkins’ diet at the strict Induction level and who had stopped losing weight when they still had weight to lose. The Fat Fast was, like the Atkins diet itself, based on scientific research. It is a restricted calorie diet, unlike most low carb dieting, and featured food rich in (healthy) fats. It has been shown that people lose more weight eating more fat than eating carbs or protein.

Under Atkins there were about 3 or 4 food items you could eat on a fat fast, but when Dana Carpender tried the fat fast she started created recipes that fit the nutritional profile of fat fast foods.

In this new cookbook there are many new recipes. One problem I have with this book is many recipes have as a main ingredient Shirataki noodles. These noodles are a great low carb noodle substitute but they taste weird compared to real, carb-filled noodles. Also, they are hard to get. My local grocery doesn’t carry them so I have to go into town to get them. They also are hard to store. They can’t be frozen but must be refrigerated. In my fridge it is cold enough on the shelf I stored Shirataki on that a package was frozen and destroyed.

But on the good side there were other recipes that I do want to try. There is a recipe for low-carb chocolate milk based on full-fat coconut milk. I haven’t tried the coconut milk version but have tried one in which I replaced the coconut milk with heavy whipping cream.

There is also a recipe for Vichyssoise which uses cauliflower instead of potato. I’m going to try that recipe as soon as I can get to a grocery store that sells leeks— recipe also calls for one leek.

Now, I myself am not really planning to do a lot of fat fasting anytime soon. I do daily intermittent fasting in the overnight to morning period. But the fat fast recipes can also be a part of any LCHF ketogenic diet, which is what I eat (or should be eating) during my eating hours.

I think the best way to stick to a ketogenic diet is to have a lot of recipe books for ketogenic diets on hand. You don’t need to do lots of exotic recipes every day. Just find a few recipes you really like, and make them regularly. I personally stockpile ingredients for some of my favorite recipes so I can make them without a special trip to the store. This is important during the winter where I live, since during snowstorms we can’t always make trips to the store.

Saturday is the day of the week I cover healthy/ketogenic diet issues as well as intermittent fasting. Usually. If you want to know more about ketogenic diet and fasting, I recommend the podcasts of Jimmy Moore. He often has Doctors on his podcasts, and discusses the scientific research that backs up approaches like ketogenic diets or fasting. I listen to his podcasts on most days, it helps me keep on track.

Jimmy Moore’s Fasting Talk Podcast.

Jimmy Moore’s Other Podcasts.

Celebrate the Small Stuff: minor characters

Fiction authors all want us to identify with the main characters. But we don’t all do that. When I read Harry Potter I identified with characters like Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood. And Snape. I always thought Snape was misunderstood and not the bad guy Harry assumed he was.

Every character in a book is possibly a character that a reader will like the best. And that’s why great authors spend time on smaller characters as well the big ones. Sometimes a well-thought-out secondary character is what makes a book unforgettable.

I have always picked secondary characters to latch on to in fiction. Melanie in Gone with the Wind, for example. She was such a good and loving person. Scarlett needed someone like that in her life.

And then there was Valentine in the Ender books by Orson Scott Card. Not quite good enough for Battle School. And then her little brother Ender was chosen, so she spend her childhood with the brother she hated instead of the brother she loved. Her life turned out to be more about Ender than it was about herself. And Ender normally had bigger things to deal with than his sister.

Sometimes we get lucky and an author writes a book about a minor character we like. I love Bean in Ender’s Game, and then Orson Scott Card wrote some books that told Bean’s story.

Have you ever liked a minor character as much or more than a main character in a work of fiction?

This has been a post in Lexa Cain’s Celebrate the Small Things blog hop. Lexa has been ill and not able to participate for a while but others on the list have been doing it every week anyway. Visit Lexa Cain’s blog to see the posts— her Celebrate the Small Things participants are in her sidebar under a couple of other blog lists— scroll down. http://lexacain.blogspot.com/

Literary agents as biased gatekeepers

If you read books by a mainstream ‘big’ publisher, you are reading the work of authors who have agents. For most traditionally published authors, getting an agent is the first step to getting a publisher. So the agents function as a gatekeeper helping to decide what books get published.

My most recent copy of Writer’s Digest has profiles of a number of agents looking for new writers. They tell what they want— usually more ‘diversity’ and more LGBTXYZ characters— and what they don’t want. For some agents that is ‘Christian.’

That set me to thinking. In all the years I’ve been reading Writer’s Digest I’ve never heard an agent or publisher say, ‘No Jewish fiction,’ or ‘I don’t want to see any Jewish stuff.’ I’ve never seen one who said ‘No Buddhists need apply.’ Now, I bet some of these agents and publishers in fact didn’t want to see any work with religious content of ANY faith. But no one feels free to admit those biases in public.

But bias against Christians— no one is afraid to admit to that these days. Now, I believe an agent that has the impulse to say ‘No Christian stuff’ would be a poor agent for a Christian author— he wouldn’t have good connections at the Evangelical Christian publishing houses. But I do think it is sad that agents have no fear of admitting a prejudice in public.

Fortunately the rise of Indie fiction means the big publishers are no longer the only game in town, so getting an agent that isn’t bigoted against your faith isn’t as urgent.  There are alternatives. And there are a few agents who specialize in Evangelical Christian authors. (I don’t know that there is any hope for the Catholic authors, as far as agents go. There aren’t many Catholic publishers with a fiction line.)

For the reader the rise of Indie fiction means that there is a greater variety of books to be found. If only it were easier to find the good stuff.

Worldbuilding Wednesday: Your world needs history

History shapes us all. Even though I was born after WW2, I was affected by the events of that conflict. And so I know that fictional characters will also be affected by their world’s history.

In my worldbuilding for my WIP Tiberius Base, the Terran Empire that most of the characters are part of is not a real empire with a central governing authority. The planet Earth is called Oldearth with a certain degree of contempt, because the world has gone silly due to the continuation of anti-overpopulation measures into a time when the planet is facing an underpopulation crisis. The Terran Empire consists of a bunch of different authorities based on different colony worlds. The Emperor of the Empire, called the Asian Emperor because he unites the royalty of several Asian nations in his family tree, is a figurehead and knows it, but ‘rules’ out of some royal palaces on Oldearth. The pope also is based on Oldearth but most men who rise to that position worked on Terran colonies before becoming Cardinals and later Popes.

Terrans are part of a very loose group of humanoid races that maintain the Interstellar Archives. The Archives rate differing races as to their dominance level. A race that is considered submissive is not allowed to colonize whole worlds but must be content with being given a continent to settle on some other race’s world. The Archives determine which colonization projects are allowed/accepted but have no warships to stop an unapproved project.

There are two humanoid races that play a part in the story. The Menders have been visiting Terra since the days of ancient Egypt, usually to buy horses to add to their own breeding stock. Terrans and Menders are usually allies.

The Lizards, also called Ulangin, are a problem. A Lizard is making a claim to the whole of Tiberius Base, because the Base’s core is a hollowed-out asteroid provided by a mysterious true-alien race called the Diggers. The Lizard has permission from the Archives to study Digger artifacts and so he claims the whole Base.

Ping, the main character, and his boss, Master Liang, are from a political entity which grew out of Communist China. They are ideologically Communists and Scientific Atheists, but their main business is business and their ideology isn’t allowed to interfere with that. The core of the story is that these atheist men decide to import Christianity to use as an instrument of social control over the workers they are bringing in.

The calendar used in the story is the AD calendar based on the approximate birth date of Jesus Christ. The year of the story is about 3227. I think. Haven’t worked that out much yet. Or much of the history. I do know that the United States no longer exists, but the American idea of self-government and God-given rights live on. People who believe in these ideals are called Americans even if none of their ancestors were US citizens.

The most American of the Terran worlds is called Mayflower. Some of the workers at Tiberius Base are to be imported from that world. Mayflower is divided up into states, like the United States. Some states are founded by distinct groups but the lines blur as people move to other states. Two states are full of alien immigrants, who adapt fairly well to the American way. One unique group on Mayflower is a group of German-Americans who happen to mostly be people with African-dark skin and blond, tightly curled hair, as a result of a group of children of this ethnic mix being prominent among early settlers. These are among the people imported as workers to Tiberius Base. The other workers, also German speakers, do not see anything odd about the brown skins. But some don’t like that they speak German ‘funny’— influenced by an Amish dialect.

Rebekah Loper who leads the Worldbuilding Wednesday blog hop has given some suggested questions to answer and for a change I am not ignoring them.

  1. What historical event has lead to your inciting incident? The inciting incident is when Master Liang assigns Ping to obtain a crowd of workers for the station. The whole history of planetary and space station colonization plays a role in this, and not just the history of Terrans. It has become the custom for brokers to ‘sell’ groups of workers for colonization projects. The workers are tested for fertility, rated as to useful job skills, and the languages and trade languages they speak are noted. The groups are given monetary values based on many factors. Some groups, like the Amish, are highly sought after because of their primitive-farming skills and their ability to form tight-knit communities.
  2. What historical event has most affected your character’s life? My main character Ping is an ordinary citizen of the Interplanetary People’s Republic. The history that has most affected his life is the custom that has developed of providing boarding schools to train young workers so that parents and grandparents are freed of child care duties. (Today in China workers find jobs in the towns and their children are raised by the grandparents in the countryside.) Ping was parted from his parents in that way and has learned to look on his work superiors as father figures.
  3. Has your character witnessed any significant historical events personally? Ping has never been in the right place to witness such events personally. Though he has seen video footage of many historical events, such as the destruction of the Mender homeworld, and important battles of the American Civil War which were filmed by the Mender and Lizard participants. (A Lizard character had ancestors who fought for the Confederates in the Civil War. His ancestors adopted the surname Lee after Robert E. Lee. They are still feuding with Lizard clans whose ancestors fought for the North, especially the clan named ‘Grant.’)

This has been a post in the Worldbuilding Wednesdays blog hop. Join up here: http://rebekahloper.com/