Monday, February 22, 2021

From Result to Cause

Often, when you are worldbuilding, or creating a character, a supernatural race, or whatever, you know what you need for the story or the world to work, but these elements must be an organic part of the whole, not just something stuck in.  

For these elements to make sense to the reader, you have to work backwards to find the causes that fit your results.

I’ve used this method many times to discover what happened in a character’s past that makes a character like he is, to build back plot, or to world build.

When I started writing STAR-CROSSED, my science fiction romance, I had a few ideas about my alien world that were dictated by plot necessity.  Its gravity would be slightly heavier than Earth’s so human men would be weaker than the planet’s women.  It would be fairly close to Earth in living conditions and weather because it was a science fiction romance, not science fiction, and the audiences are different.  The wildlife would make it almost impossible for a human to survive on his own in the wilderness so Tristan escaping into the wilderness wasn’t a viable option.  

Beyond that, I really didn’t think out the specifics of the planet’s wildlife because it wasn’t needed for the novel.  

In the first scene with my heroine Mara, I decided to give her an alien pet to make the scene more otherworldly, and I chose an animal similar to a cat but with long rabbit-style ears because I wanted the pet to be relatable to non-science fiction readers.  

Floppy, the rab-cat, hopped up onto Mara’s lap and promptly told me he was as intelligent as a human, he would take care of Mara--no human male needed, and he was in the story until the end.  

Being well-trained by my pets to be obedient, I agreed with his assessment of the situation, and I realized I needed to work backwards from Floppy to make sense of rab-cats in relation to the other parameters I’d set up for myself for the world.  

I ended up writing an interview with Floppy which details my choices, and since it is more entertaining than a bland recital, here it is.  

Floppy, the sentient alien kitty, from STAR-CROSSED was kind enough to let me interview him.  His interpreters were busy, but, fortunately, he is quite proficient at writing human Basic so he typed his answers on my laptop.

Floppy is a bit larger than the average Earth cat and has a solid black, smooth coat, emerald green eyes that dance with intelligence and mischief, and elegant long ears that resemble a rabbit's.  Those ears move with grace as he speaks in his own silent language.

"Thank you for letting me interview you."

I am always happy to talk to my biographer.

"Biographer?  STAR-CROSSED is Mara's story."

No, it isn't.  It's the story of how I helped her find happiness with a true mate and children of her own.

"I guess it is.  My error."

She deserves every happiness, and I could not find my own happiness until I knew she was happy.  I kept her safe through our adventures.

"I thought Tristan did that."

He helped as did others.

"Very gracious of you.  I'll start with some questions others have asked me about you.  Here goes.  What's with the bunny ears?  Cats don't have bunny ears."

Humans call my race rab-cats, but we are not Earth cats, and we're not rabbits.  We're the sentient cat race on the planet Arden.  

"Cats from another planet?  That's ridiculous."

The cat is the perfect predator.  Why shouldn't it evolve on more than one planet?  Many planets have a vermin similar to a mouse so many have some form of cat to keep it in check.

"That still doesn't explain the ears."

The most feared predator on my world is the tyrlin.  Tristan compares it to the Bengal tiger on Earth.  It kills and eats every creature which crosses its path, and, if it is not hungry, it kills for the pleasure of it.  It hunts more by sound than scent or sight.

"So its prey evolved into absolute silence."

Yes.  No cries or songs, and stealth in its movement.

Rab-cats also hunt prey so we had to evolve with excellent hearing as well as sight and smell.

"And the big ears help you hear quiet mice?"

Exactly.  We also developed intelligence, and we created a silent language by using our ears.

"Clever kitties.  What do you think of Earth cats?"

Mara is owned by a cat.  Sheba was very kind to me when I first came to Mara's house from the vet hospital.  She licked my face, purred, and slept curled around me to comfort me. 

"You were nearly killed by a tyrlin when you were a kitten."

Yes.  It killed my mother and was trying to kill me when Mara lured it away and blasted it.  She took me to human doctors then brought me to her home to live.

"I'm sorry about your mother.  Why were you two alone in that meadow with tyrlins about?"

An earthquake destroyed our home and killed my father, my brothers, and sisters.  There was nowhere safe to live or seek refuge.  The earth would not stop shaking so no den was safe.  

Our only choice was to cross that meadow and reach the rab-cats who lived in the hills beyond.  My mother hoped the tyrlin would be busy looking for the dead of the quake.

"How horrible!  I'm so sorry."

It was a long time ago, and my heart mother healed me and loved me after my fur mother died.

"Heart mother?"

Her heart chose me although she is not rab-cat.

"Back to Sheba and Earth cats.  Do cats talk?  And what do they say?"

They are not as evolved as we are.  They talk, but they have little to say to others.  Feed me.  Hold me.  Leave me alone.  That is all they feel they need to say to humans.  They speak with their voices and with their bodies.  A slight twitch of the whiskers and a flick of the eyes in a certain direction can say volumes.

"I know.  Pan, the cat who owns me, will twitch his ear to beckon me toward him, then glance down at himself then up to me when he wants me to pick him up and hold him.  He's only vocal when he's starving to death after being away from his food bowl an hour or so.  If he's silent, I know he just wants to be held."

He doesn't need to be vocal for most of his needs because you read his body's language.  Some humans only understand a loud meow, and others don't even understand that.

"Some humans are pretty blind."

Yes.  You did not know I was sentient when you began my story.

"No, I didn't.  I thought you were an alien pet, there to make Mara's first scene obviously not on Earth.  But you set me straight when you jumped up on Mara's lap and took over the plot."

I do my humble best to set humans on the right path to happiness.

"One thing I don't understand.  After I realized you were sentient, I wanted to change your name to something more dignified than Floppy.  Why wouldn't you let me?"

Floppy is a perfectly dignified name.  In fact, in my native language, my kitten name meant almost the same thing.  My ears were quite long, and I hadn't quite developed the strength to control them completely.  

My parents never lived long enough to give me another name so Floppy I will stay to remember them.  

"I can understand that.  It's amazing that Mara chose a name for you so close to your real name."

Mara sees with her heart so she sees truly.  I forgot that for a time when Tristan entered our lives.

"She is an extraordinary person.  Thank you for this interview."

Monday, February 15, 2021

Fantasy Creatures in the Real World

Werewolves, vampires, and other supernatural beings have become a staple in current genre fiction. One problem I've seen in many of the fight scenes involving these creatures is created by a flaw in worldbuilding.

Consider this scene from a contemporary novel.  The vampire protagonist is in a dangerous part of a major city, and he's attacked by a large pack of demon-possessed humans. He fights them off until some of his vampire friends arrive, and all the demon-possessed humans are murdered. Fortunately, no normal humans saw the fight so the vampires' existence remains a secret. They stalk away into the night.

What's the problem? Simple. How can a race remain a secret for long with widespread killings and the sheer number of combatants on both sides? Wouldn't the police become a tad suspicious if the murders kept building up? Wouldn't a medical examiner suggest that someone with superhuman strength ripped these guys apart? And what about that weird DNA found on the ripped throat of one of the victims?

The fight itself can be perfectly choreographed and written, but at its end, when all the bodies are lying there, and the vampires are leaving the scene, some readers will go, "Wait a minute. What about the police? What about...." If you leave that kind of question, the fight scene has failed.

In a recent urban fantasy novel, the human-shaped demons spent the novel taking human prey while the vampires were killing the demons and the vampire hunters were killing the vampires, yet the humans and the police were apparently totally clueless about the existence of any of these creatures and unconcerned at a body count that fit a war zone, not an American city.

For a race like vampires or werewolves to remain secret, they must have very small numbers because a large number of anything can't be kept secret, or the race rarely makes contact with humans.

If they take human prey, they must dispose of the bodies so no evidence of the deaths will ever be found. Their prey must also be on the edges of human society so that their loss won't be obvious. In other words, vampires should attack a homeless person, not the beautiful young countess surrounded by friends, retainers, and family.

Vampires definitely shouldn't attack tourists in a town which supports itself with tourism. Considering the incredible national coverage and outrage caused by just a few tourist deaths in places like Miami and New Orleans in recent years, it's highly unlikely that dozens of tourists becoming monster chow wouldn't cause a similar outcry and intense scrutiny.

Real world logic applies even to supernatural characters. Make the fight and its outcome logical, or you've failed.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Love in Action Scenes

 In my last blog, I discussed how sexual attraction can detract from an action scene--a person facing an enemy is more likely to die if they are thinking about sex with their romantic and fighting partner so such thoughts in fiction makes the scene unrealistic, and the pace of the action scene is also ruined by the constant interruptions.

Long declarations and discussions of love or long introspective moments when a character is fighting are no more appropriate, but, surprisingly, the emotion of love isn’t such an interruption if used correctly as motivation. Love, particularly a love that makes the lover’s life more important than his own, will make a character do unexpected things in a fight. 

She may be so busy keeping an eye on her lover that she isn’t protecting herself well enough. He may be so concerned about keeping her safe that he doesn’t trust her to fight as she is capable of doing and interferes disastrously in her fight.

Love as a motivation in battle can make the strong weaker, and the weak stronger. It can be the Achilles heel of a powerful fighter if the enemy recognizes it.

A life-threatening moment can also be a revelation for a character. He may not have realized the intensity of his feelings for the woman until her life stands in balance. 

She may know how she feels, but never said anything until the fight is over, and they cling to each other after nearly dying, then she blurts out her feelings without meaning to. 

Love is the most powerful motivation in the world, and using the characters’ feelings for each other can make an action scene even more powerful.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Sex and Action Scenes

Recently, I read a paranormal novel about a romantic couple fighting demons. During the action scenes, they were so busy fantasizing about the other’s crotch that I wondered at the brains and survival skills of these people. In the real world, a fighter who is busy thinking about sex before and during a fight is a dead fighter.

The pace was also ruined because the constant sexual elements and sexual introspection distracted from the peril.

Brief bits of body language--a touch, a smile, or caress, as well as brief snippets of romantic dialogue can keep the sexual tension and caring evident without bringing the story to a dead halt.

Wait until a lull in the fighting to put your couple in a safe hiding place where they can repair their wounds and chase each other around the bed.

The important thing to remember is that even in a romantic story, sex shouldn’t be paramount in action scenes, but after the battle is won, all that extra adrenaline is a nice appetizer to sex.