Friday, May 15, 2015

Whale of a Time

These pieces are for a commission as part of a (hopefully very lucrative and exciting) project I am embarking upon. And no, it's not the TCG! (Although you might see these guys in it.)

Sperm Whale
Humpback Whale

Blue Whale
Southern Right Whale

Original Pokemon and Evolutions

It has been a while, hasn't it? I'm afeared that my Animal-a-day Zootrophy project has pretty much gobbled up my time faster than a hungry goat in a donut shop. However, the game is now available for sale and I'm still working through the alphabet - up to P, at last count. I have also just finished hosting another Design-a-Pokemon swap over on ATCs for all, and thought I would share my not-very-pokemon-ish looking creations.

Duyano - this tiny Pokemon can evolve into a multitude of different forms (some below), depending on habitat and other external stimuli.

Pixum - a delicate fairy Pokemon, Pixum evolves during the daylight, after experiencing, or requiring, great compassion. The jewel on his chest glows, and he uses it to lead lost children (or Pokemon) to safety.

Sandicute - evolving in the arid deserts, Sandicute spends his days in subterranean tunnels, using his sensitive face-tentacles to navigate and forage for food.

Devile - evolves at night in response to negative stimuli - such as a threat of violence. Devile raises his spines when irked. These are tipped with a paralysing poison.

Numbolt - evolving in the open woodland and savannah, Numbolt uses static electicity to hunt for prey.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Writing Tips: Show and Tell

It has become almost a cliché – the old mantra “Show, not tell” and often you will hear it when receiving a critique. But what, you may ask, does it actually mean? Is the critiquer offering valid advice, or are they just trying to appear sophisticated and smug? And is it in fact a valid point – do you really need to show, not tell? What does it do for the story.

Is it important?
Well, to be honest – no. Whether you show instead of telling, will not determine whether you become a popular author or not. MANY best-selling authors do not show, they just tell. Lesley Pearse, Danielle Steele, and my mother's favourite, MC Beaton all engage in a manner of story telling that is just that, TELLing. Action fiction like Matthew Reilly is also heavy on the Tell. It has a place – and that place is generally quick and easy reads that are fast-paced and mostly forgettable. When you consider how many books each of these authors has produced, you realise that they are, literally, churning the stories out.

So why do it?
By showing, you turn your book from a forgettable, if enjoyable, read into an experience. One that the reader feels along with the characters, one that may well linger in their mind and stick with them for a considerable time. It brings the characters more fully too life – establishing them as real people instead of just characters.
And it also really does increase your word count.

Telling is passive, like having the story read to you at bedtime. The reader is clearly divided from the main characters, almost as though they were watching them from afar or on television.
Showing is active, as though the story is actually happening around the reader. It is more immediate, more involving.

So, how to do it?

Minimise Adverbs
Adverbs are a prime example of Tell in story-telling. They are clunky and should be - if not eliminated, than at least minimised. In many cases, a more powerful verb exists:

Tell: Aurelia ran quickly away from the predator.
Show: Aurelia bounded away from the predator.

It creates a more visceral immediacy.

Describe Emotions
One of the easiest ways to show instead of telling is to describe how the character feels, rather than telling the author. There are many ways to do it - you can use body language and physiological changes.

For example: how do you know when you are feeling sad? What physical symptoms do you experience? What goes on inside your head?

Remember, there are two ways to describe emotion: one as how it feels and the other as how it is perceived on another. When describing emotion in your story, the point-of-view character should feel their own emotions (a lump in the throat, a quivering in the chest etc) but read it in the body language of others (a frown, slumped shoulders).
  Be careful not to overdo this! One sentence of another's body languge should be sufficient in most cases. Also, take care that characters do not repeat the same action too many times - I had one character "scowl" three times within two pages. Mix up the descriptions a bit!
If you are uncomfortable with writing emotions, try watching some television - particularly dramas and soap operas. Study the body language  of the actors - they cannot Tell you how they are feeling - they must Show you.

Get Specific
Detail the world around the characters - it's not just a banister, it's a worn wooden banister, it's not just a car, it's a bright red sportscar. Be aware, though, that the descriptions should be limited by the character's perceptions: what is a bright red sportscar to one person might be an ardent red jaguar to another. What is a little brown bird to one person might be a song sparrow to another.

There is a danger in giving too much detail, we do not want screes of description about irrelevant objects - these slow the prose and distract or bore the reader.
Show Description in the Characters Interactions with the Environment
 No bulk dump of descriptive text when the character enters a new room, please! Instead, have the character interact with it - run their hand along the banister, cast their eyes on the paintings, stumble over the footstool left in the middle of the floor.

Use All Five Senses
Visual cues are the easiest - but don't forget sound, smell, taste and feel!

 Dialogue is a great way to show emotion and also can be used (sparingly and carefully) as a means of transfering information to the reader which would otherwise result in exposition or infodumps. This is a popular technique in school situations - where the characters could be learning about the history of the realm, or the science behind a particularly plot-relevant device.

Dialogue is also a great way to show the personalities of characters - if the main character's neighbour is a hateful, spiteful, stereotypical nasty old man, don't tell it like I just did, show it in his reaction to her cat wandering across his lawn or so forth.

To avoid lots of dialogue tags: he said, she said, he shouted, she whispered etc, try and intersperse them with actions. Show the speaker's body language and actions as they talk. Describe the other character's reaction. It is important though, that if you are showing a reaction, do it on the line below, for the reader will automatically attribute the first name they see following dialogue as the speaker, if they are on the same line.

Use adverbs sparingly and try not to overdo the variety of "said" alternatives that you use.

Vary Sentence Structure
Shorter sharper sentences build tension, and are great for action scenes.
Longer, more complicated sentences will slow the prose and can be great for drawing out the suspense.
Try not to start all sentences with the same word, this is a sure sign of Telling:

1. Think about a chore or activity you feel strongly about - whether it be love, hate, anger or disappointment - then write a short passage of either yourself or a character engaging in this activity. Do not directly Tell the reader what the activity is, nor how it makes you feel. Show them.

2. Have another character enter the scene. This character is feeling a strong emotion too, one that contrasts with the character in #1. Show us, through body language and dialogue, how this character behaves as perceived by Character #1.

3. Have character #1's emotion change as a result of Character #2s behaviour.

Possible Pitfalls:
- Purple prose - over-describing in flowery terms that confuses and/or bores the reader (we don't want to be consulting the dictionary as we read)
- filling the story with irrelevant details (do we really need to know every little thing about that walnut sideboard?)
- false foreshadowing - this can be used to your advantage, but be aware of it. If a particular item is described in intense detail early on, the reader will automatically assume it will be of some, probably critical, relevance later on in the tale.
- disrupting the tension - too much detail about irrelevant things when the story is building to an emotional or physical climax.

which brings us to:

When to Tell and not Show:
- in action scenes - or other scenes where they will slow, or halt the prose - DO NOT use long descriptions. Think of how the POV character would perceive the situation.
- if you have a lot of information and need to get it presented fast.
- when describing an everyday task that is of little consequence/relevance to the main plot (we do not need, for example, all the steps to making tea).

And remember: Your readers are intelligent creatures (they chose your book, after all!) give them some credit - you do not need to show AND tell the same thing unless there is some ambivalence in how it might be perceived. For example:
 Aurelia huddled beneath the overhang, tail tucked in tight to her body, shivering. "Don't find me, don't find me," she thought, as though that simple mantra would protect her from the Hunter. She was terrified.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Jupiter Ascending

Last night I went to see "Jupiter Ascending". It is a glorious eclectic cornucopia of colour, elaborate sets, dazzling wardrobes and a plot that left my jaw hanging, metaphorically, for large portions of it. It has everything - and I mean everything - that you could wish for in a science-fiction epic. Cool tech: check; space battles: check. A mere mortal, everyday human thrown into the midst of this glorious chaos: check. And of course a romantic subplot, many strange and - in some cases - quite over the top aliens (draconians, Neesh the pilot), and oh such beautiful and dramatic sets. And that wedding dress (*drools*).

This is wish fulfilment taken to the ultimate level.

So, how do describe the plot?
Jupiter's father is killed before she is born, and her mother births her in a shipping container enroute to America. Here she labours away with her mother and cousins, cleaning houses for the rich. She hates her life, as she constantly re-iterates. Meanwhile, in a galaxy far far away, but with portals comveniently linked to our own, three siblings squabble over the planets that are their birthright - which includes Earth. And eerie mention is made of the word "harvest".

Jupiter's life then takes a sudden and unexpected turn as she finds herself caught up in this intergalatic warfare. Firstly, with the introduction of the half-wolf splice, Caine, an ex-mercanary working for Titus Abraxus. Then we are treated to some delicious eye-candy, as Caine and Stinger (played by Sean Bean) wrestle outside a rundown farmhouse. There really is everything here: space battles over a US city, demented bureacracy, a mad-cap plot that makes sense on a superficial level - and who cares about delving any deeper?

It's beautiful, and crazy and I'm not sure what I want more - that dress or those rocket boots...

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Hail to the Dragonforce!

As some of you will likely know, I am a fan of heavy metal, specifically power metal. And thus it was with great excitement that I learned UK band Dragonforce were coming to perform in my home city, of Christchurch. In a pub, no less! I was first introduced to Dragonforce back in the early part of the century, when I used to chat on metal forums and met Steve Williams, the ex-keyboardist of Dragonheart, then of Power Quest. I believe it was he who sent me a copy of Dragonheart's demo and thus I was introduced to their frantic-fast paced sound. Dragonheart, of course, fragmented into Dragonforce and the aforementioned Power Quest. Since then I only acquired one of their albums - The Power Within, although in preparation for the gig I listened to the latest album, Maximum Overdrive, a couple of times.

Two of the members - Sam and Herman - were in NZ melodic black metal band Demoniac. I rather liked their works, but only managed to get my paws on two tracks, recorded off the radio and thus poor quality.
Arriving at Churchills at the specified time, I joined the snaking black-clad queue, of which most seemed to be of the 18-25 age bracket. I was one of the few solo-females. My husband is not a heavy metal fan and I have no wish to subject him to something he is unlikely to enjoy. As an aside, at a gig the previous year (Skid Row and Ugly Kid Joe), another lass commented that I was brave for attending gigs alone. I found this an interesting observation - I have never felt especially scared at such events, even those in different cities. I almost feel like I am amongst kindred spirits - my brothers (and sisters) of "true metal". Also, I can place a mean elbow if required. Anyhow, after about 40 minutes of bearing the cold bite of the wind, the fun of reading people's t-shirts began to wear rather more than a little thin (I was the only "Gamma Ray" shirted punter) and finally the doors opened and we began to weave our way in. There was much flashing of ID cards, but alas my comment of "do you need to see mine?" earned a laugh. After a brief scout around the hall to see if I recognised anyone (nope) I squished my way across the carpet and staked my position up at the front of the knee-high stage.

Opening act were "Awakened Inferno". One guitarist was wearing a Cynic t-shirt, which rather amused me (I have one of their albums on cassette tape). The music started with a roar, the bass pounding deep in my sternum and sending me scurrying off to put in my ear plugs. This is the first time I have ever worn ear plugs at a concert. After my Churchills experience last year, which left me sensitive to high pitched noises but otherwise feeling like I was underwater, I have realised that too many more concerts could send me deaf. For all you young folks attending concerts - it may seem a bit like you're "wimping out" to wear ear protection but it both brought the volume down to a manageable level and also eliminated some of the distortion. Since no one was being particularly territorial over their space at this point, I managed to claim my spot between two staunch-looking fellows and remained right at the front for the opening acts. Awakened Inferno are competent musicians and I wish I could say more in praise of them - I enjoyed their set, but unfortunately didn't know any of their songs and the rest of the evening more-or-less blew them from my memory.

Red Dawn followed. I had listened to their samples online, so knew roughly what to expect. Older, more experienced musicians, the drummer and one guitarist elaborately decorated with tattoos. Overall, more charisma and showmanship than Awakened Inferno, plus I knew the songs. Being up close to the front meant that I kept making eye-contact with the drummer which was a bit uncomfortable, so I distracted myself with a bit of careful headbanging (from the shoulders and waist kids, not the neck. I have learned from experience that whiplash is Not Fun) and also avoiding being hit in the face by one of the guitars. Yes, I was that close to the band. Alas, the vocals were not coming across very strongly, and I could barely hear the singer, except on the choruses. Thinking it might be muffled by the earplugs I slipped one out, and was immediately barraged by a wall of guitars and drums. Still the music was an epic roar of sound and melody and they played the full set from the Ironhead EP.

Things started to heat up as the wait for Dragonforce began. The press from behind was bearable, but the kids behind me commenting on "getting to the front" was a warning of pressure to come. The stage at Churchills is approximately knee height and I had nothing in front of me save for a microphone stand upon which balanced a bottle of beer. They made us wait about 40 minutes, as the keyboard and keytar were set up, the microphone stands positioned and microphones tested. And then they took to the stage. Immediately the crowd surged, almost pushing me onto the stage and, although I forced it back and retained my footing, I realised this was no way to enjoy a concert and bet a hasty retreat, slipping to the side of the stage where I was still within arms reach of the band. Dragonforce were excellent, the new vocalist, Marc, pulling off their earlier tracks with skill and the backing vocalists adding their own unique twists. Watching Herman, Sam and Fred play was quite amazing. Aside from the usual heavy metal theatrics, Dragonforce are really, really fast. Fingers flicked along guitar strings, hair billowed in the wind from the fans (the air-blowing kind) and they really know how to play to the audience. Between tracks Marc conversed with the audience, his English accent strong, teased ex-NZ band member, Sam (who was English-born, NZ raised and still retains his kiwi accent) and seemed to be having a fine time. Most of the tracks I recognised, including "Black Winter Nights" from their very early days and an epic, frantic cover of "Ring of Fire" (the only cover song they've ever played, to date). The latter created a mosh-pit whirlpool, for which I remained on the outskirts. There was much air punching, jumping up and down and hair waving. Due to the nature of the venue, they decided not to go with the whole "let's walk off and pretend that we've finished" act, just announcing the encores. We could all see the playlist anyway. Funnily enough, Marc went into this lengthy spiel about how there was one track they would have to play all they'd probably get lynched, found out they'd rearranged the playlist and then they ripped into "Valley of the Damned" instead - rather to my enthusiastic glee, as it is one of my favourites. The actual "have to play" song followed turned out to be one I had never heard before, but everyone else seemed more than familiar with it, so it was an epic conclusion for them. I also got to shake hands with Frederic and the drummer, which is always neat.

I crawled home shortly after, ears still ringing despite the ear plugs, and straight into the shower. The next day, I'm stiff all over, especially in my lower back (still, better that than my neck) and have a rather nice bruise on my ankle from where someone kicked me as they entered the mosh pit. However, I loved (almost) every moment of it, the energy and atmosphere of live concerts, feeling the thrum of the music right down in your bones, screaming yourself hoarse along with your favourite songs - there's really nothing quite like it. And I'd do it all again in a heart-beat - except possibly wear bigger boots.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Creature Feature Round-up (Last of the Ls)

432: Loon
433: Lorikeet
434: Loris

435: Lovebird
436: Lungfish

437: Lynx

438: Lyrebird

439: Leaf Insect