Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Guest Post by Michelle Browne (SciFiMagpie)--Continuity: The Devils Are in the Details

Hello hello!

A big and very gracious thank-you to the SFRB for letting me guest-post once again today. Today's post has been inspired by a bugbear I've been dealing with lately: continuity.

Those of you who are fans and bloggers might shrug when I mention continuity. Writers, on the other hand, are probably feeling a shiver down their spines that has nothing to do with the ice-bucket challenge. To explain why this induces muttering dreams and sleepless nights, it wouldn't hurt to have a definition.

Source. Pictured: a reader unhappy with continuity errors.

Continuity: what is it, and why does it matter?

"Continuity" refers to self-consistency through descriptions, action, storylines, and development in a creative work. In a nutshell, good continuity means adhering to your own rules. A work should be congruent and not vary too much throughout its existence. "Discontinuity" happens when errors are made or the lore is changed; "retroactive continuity", or "retcons", are made to reconcile early errors with later events, details, or changes. You can also manipulate continuity in order to make the narrator unreliable. Inception, American Psycho, Memento, and other films and books have made use of this. An unreliable narrator is great when it's done on purpose, but inconsistent details can also make a writer look sloppy.

 For instance, your distraught loner character might develop into a compassionate and friendly, even optimistic person through a series, but she probably shouldn't too perky and resilient right away if she's recently lost her entire family, dog, boyfriend, and ship in a single fell swoop. This usually happens when a series has been left alone for too long and the author's forgotten how to write for a character, or when the author is getting bored of a character's traits.

Character continuity is important, and the same goes for plot details. Something that one character says happened two years ago should not suddenly have happened ten years ago when it's mentioned again. We'll go deeper in a second.

Why is this important for sci fi? 

Everyone knows about the fan outcry that happened when George Lucas created the first Star Wars movies, but retroactive continuity issues also played a role in the first trilogy. Entire blogs have been written and based on examining errors in the series, so let's talk about a different example--Doctor Who. With so many writers, the story of the Time War has been bent and twisted and changed in ways that can seem self-contradictory. This also affects the characters and their journey, of course, because the plot never functions in isolation. (If it does, get an editor to look over your book, stat, because something is broken.)

As writers of fiction, it's important to learn from failures and make sure that our worlds are consistent. A tiny detail that was mentioned and thrown away earlier can be mined for plot purposes later, or, conversely, can break the plot. Farscape had a wonderful episode called "The Locket", but the mechanism their ship Moya used to escape a time-freezing zone, a "reverse starburst", unfortunately was never mentioned again. The eagles in The Lord of the Rings or the many, many plot devices used in the Harry Potter series are examples of dropped plot devices and throwaway details that accumulated to create some improbable and silly situations for the characters. The worst case I've seen was probably in The Sword of Truth--there were so many throwaway plot devices in this series that the author had to go nuclear on the ending for the last book in order to reconcile them all.

When plot devices are forgotten or tossed aside from continuity, characters' situations can end seem silly to the audience. Just because the author has forgotten something doesn't mean our readers will, unfortunately!


How do we fix it?

It wouldn't be a SciFiMagpie post without a solution. In this case, it's simple, but a lot of work: KNOW THY WORLD. Chuck Wendig has a particularly wonderful affirmation card (posted above). The way I'm coping with continuity in The Meaning Wars is by re-reading And the Stars Will Sing and The Stolen: Two Short Stories.  Unfortunately, it's also brought a few flaws and typos in the books to my attention, but that's part of the process. You can't be a better writer unless you know your flaws.

"How can I smooth over that exposition? How can I change things so I can avoid that head-jump--can I imply things, perhaps? Maybe do a short scene from the other character's perspective? Did I just change the location of this world by accident? How can a luxurious Southern California/Ireland-like region exist in a warzone? Should I move it?" These are just a few of the questions I've been asking myself, and while painful, it's also really satisfying to know when I've gotten something right. After all, readers love to niggle, but even the ones who miss continuity errors appreciate smooth, consistent stories. This is also the reason why editors are very, very useful people to know.

And the better you do at maintaining continuity, the less sleep you'll lose at night after you accidentally change a character's name, make them three inches taller than they were in the first book, and give them a peanut allergy that would have killed them in the first scene in the second book.

Thanks for dropping by the nest once again. Don't miss any of the phuquerie. Find Michelle on TwitterFacebook, and on Tumblr, and find her work on Amazon. Check back on the blog to see when one of the irregular posts has careened onto your feed. This is the one and only SciFiMagpie, over and out! 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The SFR Brigade Presents - 8/16-8/21

On the hunt for a new #scifi #romance read? Check out this week's round of snippets in The SFR Brigade Presents! 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

SFRB Recommends #20: Visionary of Peace by Cindy Borgne #scifi #romance

Visionary of Peace by Cindy Borgne

Book Description

Ian Connors had planned to use his visions to spy on Marscorp in order to maintain peace, but flashbacks and nightmares make it impossible. Since two years of peace have passed due to a stalemate, Ian decides to try and live a normal life, until one day he has a vision so horrifying he has no choice but to become the seer he once was or Vallar will have no future. While he struggles to regain his ability, the Marcs plot to capture him alive in order to complete a deal for their return to Earth.

Why is it recommended?

This is the second book in the Vallar Series. For those who met Ian Connors in the first book, it is primarily an opportunity to see what happens to him after he leaves Marscorp. And trouble, it seems, is never too far away.

Borgne weaves a tightly-structured story with plenty of surprises along the way. One can definitely learn from the example she sets in story-craft. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Heroine's Journey by Deborah A. Bailey

When I was working on the second book in my Hathor Legacy series, "Hathor Legacy Burn," I needed an easy to use outline for the action. I'm more of a pantser than a plotter, but having some sort of roadmap for the story was a big help. To start with, I referred to one of my go-to books, "The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers" by Christopher Vogler, which is based on Joseph Campbell's work (and described in his book, "The Hero with a Thousand Faces").

But even though I've read The Writer's Journey several times, and found it helpful, this time around it felt like something was missing for me. My heroine, Nadira, drives most of the action in the book. I could map the journey to some parts of her character arc, but for other parts, it felt forced. That's when I went searching to find other insights. Ultimately after an internet search, I found what I was looking for.

In her book, "Story Structure Architect," Victoria Lynn Schmidt maps out a journey based on archetypes found in the story of the Sumerian goddess, Inanna, an epic that describes her descent into the underworld.

Stages of the Heroine's Journey:

1. Perfect World - the heroine's everyday world

2. Realization/Betrayal - an inciting incident and decision point

3. Awakening: - decision to take the journey

4. Descent - the heroine faces her fears but can't turn back

5. Eye of the Storm - tests and ordeals

6. The Death - an actual or symbolic death

7. Support - help comes, possibly from the larger community

8. Moment of Truth - rebirth and facing the biggest challenge

9. Full Circle - heroine returns to the perfect world with more self-awareness

Even though it's a Heroine's Journey, it can be undertaken by a hero as well (just as a heroine can take the Hero's Journey). I felt that Nadira's arc was a better fit for these stages. She starts out in a perfect world (or so she thinks) as a Guardian on the planet Hathor. Then as she starts investigating a series of fires, she discovers information that's been kept hidden from her.

After a series of setbacks, she's forced to accept that she needs support from others in order to solve the crimes and confront the conspirators. Her journey isn't just about dealing with the threats to the perfect world; she has to come to terms with her own identity as well.

When she gets to the full circle stage, she has a different awareness of herself and what the Guardians are about. In addition, that stage provides a jumping off point for the next story to begin. By having her experience these steps, I had a better understanding of her as a character. I didn't have to decide which path she'd take. Her actions flowed from one stage to the next.

There are variations of the Heroine's Journey, including a version in Kim Hudson's book, The Virgin's Promise. If you're looking for an alternative to the Hero's Journey (or want to read more about the archetypes) there are a number of resources that go into more detail.

For more information about Victoria Schmidt's version, here's the link to the post on the Sharper Stories site: http://sharperstories.wordpress.com/2013/04/06/the-feminine-and-masculine-journeys/

Bio + links

Deborah A Bailey is the author of the novels, "Hathor Legacy: Outcast," "Hathor Legacy: Burn" and a short story collection, "Electric Dreams: Seven Futuristic Tales." Her short stories have won awards from the Philadelphia Writers' Conference and her work has been published in US1 Magazine and the Sun. After several years as a software developer, she left corporate to become a freelance technical writer. 

Hathor Legacy: Burn buy link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00LW95G7K

Hathor Legacy: Outcast buy link: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00FZ1MEX0

Twitter: @AuthorDeborahB

Book description:

On the planet, Hathor, an old threat re-emerges that may destroy the fragile alliance between the Guardians and Novacorp. When Nadira is called to investigate a rash of fires throughout the city, she discovers the Deshtu, another group with PSI powers who have been purposely kept in the shadows. Working to uncover the source of the fires, Nadira learns the brutal truth about the origin of the Guardians. As time runs out, the Guardians prepare for a clash with Novacorp that could plunge the planet into chaos, and a final betrayal forces Nadira to risk everything to save herself and Hathor. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The SFR Brigade Presents - 8/9-8/14 #scifi #romance

Searching for your next scintillating #scifi #romance read? Check out this week's round of snippets from the SFR Brigade Presents! 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Anybody Know Where I Can Find a Space Mechanic? Guest post by @Clare_Dargin

Courtesy of Drewsil at Deviantart
No one has ever accused me of being a mechanic (nor will they) but when writing a science fiction story that takes place in a ship in outer space, like Han Solo, I kind have to be familiar with everything. It's not like when the ship breaks down they can take it to the nearest Pep Boys Star Ship Center, or can they?  Hmmm...that's a story for a different time.

Back to my point, for my science fiction novels 'Cold Warriors' and 'Ice and Peace' the carrier in which the majority of the story took place had to be, for the most part, self contained.  Right down to changing the oil in an engine in case it went down. 

Now that I look back on it, creating the self contained world in which the crew lived in was the easy part.  The hard part was making it believable.  Case in point, space travel.

When ever anyone asks about my science fiction books the first thing that inevitably comes up is how the characters travel through space.  And I always answer the same way-- 'No they do not use Warp Speed.'  Why?  Because I just don't have enough money to go through a long drawn out court battle with Paramount Pictures over intellectual copy right for the use of the term.  So I tend to opt out of its use. 

Then what do I use?  Well for long distance travel, the option that works best for me in the SFR genre is worm hole technology or some variation of it.  But what about when they are just driving along trying to get from planet A to planet B?  That's easy, a standard nuclear based engine will do.  This presents another problem.  When traveling in space, unlike on Earth where we have seat belts, inertia can be a cause for concern if and when the ship stops.  (Yes, I think about these things!) 

Of course when I started writing the series, the only thing I knew about Classical Mechanics was that it had nothing to do with fixing my car and about inertia was that it something to do with a few PBS specials I'd seen.  So I started my research and set about learning how to stop a ship in space.

I came upon Sir Isaac Newton and his Laws of Motion.  In particular his first law which states, “Inertia is the resistance of any physical object to any change in its state of motion, including changes to its speed and direction. It is the tendency of objects to keep moving in a straight line at constant velocity. The principle of inertia is one of the fundamental principles of classical physics that are used to describe the motion of objects and how they are affected by applied forces.” (Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inertia). 

In other words, inertia refers to objects ability to stay in rest or motion until something else acts upon it. And that means a lot in space where there is no air resistance, gravity or a whole bunch of friction to slow something down. By the way, I also touch upon the Third Law of Motion as well in a tongue and cheek style.

In the case of my space ship, the problem lay not in the ship stopping but the people.  Because of a mechanical failure, the commanding officer on the ship had cause for concern when applying the so called 'breaks' when they got to port. 

Why? You see it's because of inertia. The people were inside the ship, therefore they were traveling at the same velocity as the ship. So when it stopped, they needed to stop 'moving' too.  But the equipment that did this was broken.  Can you hear my evil laugh?  I had so much fun writing this scene!  Here is it is from 'Ice and Peace'..

Keegan did not allow himself to finish the thought.
“Boatswain’s Mate,” he called out as he stared at his coffee cup on the stand next to him. The liquid inside tilted instead of being level.
“Aye, Captain?”
“I’d like the status of—” The ship shuddered before he could finish the words. It did it again then groaned loudly from its bowels. “What the hell was that?”
Dumbfounded, the officer of the deck stared at him, wide-eyed.
“Sir,” she said, “I don’t know.”
“Find out.”
Stunned, she stood still.
Keegan frowned and barked, “Move it!”
“Yes, sir,” she replied, before scurrying out of the room.
He could only imagine what challenges he’d face on his first day back in command...
The air inside of Engine Room One on the Blanchard was musty and filled with the stench of lubricant. The loud clanking of a broken pump sounded through the room as various personnel did their best to shut it down, along with the engine it served, before it was too late.
“Sir,” one of the engineers called out, while approaching Keegan.
Her soot-stained face and jacket gave evidence to the battle she was having with the machine.
“It’s Inertial Dampener Number One. It’s gone. Apparently, the lubricator pump failed, and it locked up on us and blew,” she explained over the din.
Keegan’s swayed ever so slightly to the side as the damaged system began to affect the ship.
“Lieutenant, we’re traveling at 2C through free space.” He paused and braced himself against the side of a hatch. “How could something like this happen?”
The engineer blinked at him. “Sir. I’ll find out.”
“Well, how are we going to stop?” he asked, raising his voice in order to be heard.
“I don’t follow, sir,” she responded in an even tone.
“Let me rephrase. Lieutenant, at the speed we’re going, when we finally put on the brakes, we’ll be experiencing Newton’s Third Law in living color. So what’s going to keep us from being spots on the forward walls?”
In order to work in this area, everyone had to know physics better than Einstein. So if she had any bright ideas, he was ready to hear them.
“Sir, we lost only one dampener. We should be fine with the other three. Therefore, we have enough stability to make it to port where I can get the parts I need to make the repairs.”
“All right,” he said checking his watch. “We’ll be at Eckhardt in ten minutes. Fix what you can, and I’ll get you to port.”
“Yes, sir.”
“Carry on.”
“And, sir?”
“Yes, Lieutenant?”
“Steer us a clear path until we get them all back online. We can’t afford a bumpy ride.”
“I’ll do my job. You just watch those other three. And tell everybody to hold on.”
Keegan watched the engineer head back to her station. He rubbed the bridge of his nose and sighed. A dampener blowing was one thing, but getting the new crew to ensure a smooth ride was another.

So there you have it.  All that research for one and a quarter's scene!  I like to think that it added a little gravity to the situation.  If not, it certainly added another layer tension for the commanding officer to deal with.  As for me, my days as a mechanic are over.  But hopefully with these tips, yours are just beginning.

Ice and Peace and it's prequel Cold Warriors are available in ebook format and in print.

To purchase you can buy it at Barnes and Noble or at


Clare Dargin is an author of Science Fiction and Romance and has been writing stories all of her life before being published in 2007. She’s a great fan of the two genres and loves promoting them.

An educator by profession, she possesses a Bachelor’s Degree in English from a major mid-western university. She presently resides in the Midwest and she hopes to expand her writings to include non-fiction, historical romance, and contemporary novels.

You can find her on the web at-

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