I’m finishing up converting the workshop I did at Surrey International Writers Conference a month or so ago, Dunking Your Readers in the Details, as an on-demand class. That class was in turn based on an hourlong online writing class I did for Greg Wilson’s Twitch channel a few months ago.
The class has been fun to put together. Over the course of being taught multiple times, it’s evolved to a point where it presents a dozen tools for writing more immersive worlds, and includes several exercises to allow you to test out the different techniques and see what works for you.
Curious about it? Here’s the section on prioritizing the senses.
A common tool of “Golden Age science fiction” — the late 1930s through the 50s, when science fiction was first coming into its own as a genre — was to invoke all five senses within the first page of a story.
It turns out there’s some science behind that method, in that writing that uses the senses creates more brain activity, setting off mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are neurons that fire under two circumstances: when you are experiencing an event and secondly when you are watching someone else experience it. Writing that invokes the senses makes mirror neurons fire, which makes your reader feel as though they’re experiencing what you are describing.
But beyond that, three of the five senses are more useful to you and should be focused on. Sight and sound will come naturally, and we’re inured to them from watching television and the movies. What you need to push to invoke are smell, taste, and most importantly: touch.
Why is the last the most important? Because touch is more than a question of smooth or rough, velvet versus pebbled. It includes:
◦ Temperature like a chilly breeze, the warmth of a sunbeam
◦ Bodily sensations such as pain, nausea, exhaustion, fever, itches
◦ Motion moments like falling, flying, and floating
When you use these senses in your writing, you are making the reader feel as though they are in the body of the point of view character and experiencing the story world through them. This is a key technique when writing an immersive world.
It’s that time of year again when I urge my students and mentees not to be shy about spreading word of the great stuff they’ve done over the course of the year. I’ve blogged before about how important it is particularly for marginalized writers, and you can find my usual round-up of such posts here along with A.C. Wise’s here.
What did I publish over the course of the year? The thing I’m proudest of is my novelette, CARPE GLITTER, which just came out from Meerkat Press. It is available in both electronic and print form. If you’re reading for awards and need a copy, please let me know.
Other things I had published include:
A Merchant Has Maxims (novelette) UNFETTERED III, edited by Shawn Speakman
A Merchant had a journal since first learning to write. A Merchant without one felt that lack like a missing limb, something Essa kept reaching for and not finding. She already missed being able to flip through it at night, to figure out the results of different actions and what part each God had played, from small ones like Kepterto, who handled tailors, or Rilriliworhaomu, Trade God of Hypothetical Marital Alliances, to the larger ones like Enba and Anbo, Want and Supply.
She gulped down the last of the water and stuck the bottle in her purse. The tomato red sun rolled on the horizon, sending long black shadows walking across the land, towards the enormous black square that was Phase One of the Sol Dominion power plant, glittering in the last of the sunlight. You could barely see the storage structures scattered among them like enormous alien flowers, many petalled and made of dark carbonized plastic with an oily undersheen of cobalt and purple.
Arms folded, she looked towards the town bordering that square to the east, where lights were flickering alive. She could name most of them. The gas station. The diner. The tiny grocery/hardware/drugstore locals just called “the store.” The two block strip that was Main Street, the grade school on one end, the high school on the other, but meeting in shared sports fields: baseball, soccer. Still no football stadium. The coal plant, unlit now.
When you came home again, even “the big rural” as the song called it, things were supposed to have changed. Here the only change was that black square. Between the town lights and the scattered but symmetrical lights surrounding the plant, a dark strip, perhaps a mile wide, stretched, unlit. As though town and plant had turned their backs on each other.
A Hand Extended, (short story), CITIES OF DUST, PLANES OF LIGHT, edited by Todd Sanders
The person closest to the mage was an Ettilite, all four arms folded. Despite stiffly formal body language, he was dressed simply for his race: plain brown tunic drawn over his humanoid torso’s purple skin, and matching trews and…were those boots? On shipboard you never needed such a thing, and coming down to Tarn had been a revelation to Niko in her flimsy ship-sandals. Imagine having to dress for a totally random circumstance called “weather”? It was absurd. She hated this place.
Niko gnawed at a cuticle, then caught herself and dropped her hand back into her lap. Stay calm and don’t expend energy. Save it for the Threefold Gauntlet.
How I Come to Be the Queen of Treacle, (short story), WONDERLAND, edited by Marie Keegan and Paul Kane
When we grimbled, how we grambled, children, down in those treacle mines, with a slow syrup slurry that clung to your boots, your hands, and every bit of skin, so you’d lick your lips, vicious-like, and taste gritty sugar and wonder what was happening up in the blue-sky world. And then we grimbled and we grambled more, and when we were weary walking, sleep stepping, we came up to the wasty world and tumbled into our blankets, and then in the morning before the sun came into the sky, we went back down and did it all again.
Broken all My Boughs and Brittle My Heart (short story), UNLOCKING THE MAGIC, edited by Vivian Caethe
It was a lizard dropping on her face from the ceiling that woke Ambra in a panic. They ran back and forth all night, feasting on spiders and midges and the slower moths, but they were sticky-footed and rarely lost their grip. This one scampered away while she smacked herself in the face, much harder than she’d intended, so that she saw stars and bit her tongue, all at once.
Dawn, seeping gray, outlined the window, showing the shutter slats as faint lines of light. She nursed her tongue, which felt awkward and painful in her mouth, and swallowed blood as she swung herself up and out of bed, abandoning thought of sleep. Once she’d had a soldier’s knack of being able to sleep anywhere, anytime, but nowadays that skill was long gone and she was lucky to pluck a few uneasy hours from a night.
Cold stone struck her feet as she stood, and she fished around under the bed for the knitted socks that served her as slippers, disreputable and threadbare but warmer than being barefoot. The narrow chamber had only the single window; she moved to it and swung the shutters open, then leaned out on the wide stone sill.
Here are the SFWA recommended reading lists. These lists are the suggestions made by members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and represent pieces they found particularly read-worthy over the course of the year. Appearance on the list is NOT the same thing as a Nebula nomination.
As someone who works deeply in the zoo/conservation industries and spends a lot of time pretending to be a tiger at conventions around the country, you might say I’m enthusiastic about animals.
You’d be wrong, of course.
I’m zealous in my love for them. If I could be a little shield-carrying furry paladin, I would. (In fact, I play one in a homebrewed Dungeons and Dragons campaign.) I could go on and on about the why—because as an autistic person I relate to critters more, because there’s always something new to discover about ‘em, because they’re just badass—but the point is this… Continue reading →
I’m off to Multiverse Con next week – it’s their first year, and I’m there as Industry Guest of Honor along with Seanan McGuire and John Piccacio. Come say hi if you’re there! Two weeks after that I’ll be up in Surrey BC as a presenter at the Surrey International Writers Conference.
In writing stuff, I am working hard this month on EXILES OF TABAT, which should go to beta readers on November 1. THE FIVE OF US, my middle grade space opera, just went off to readers at the beginning of the month. Next up in writing is the sequel to the Tor space opera, which will be my November project. In December, I’m going to focus on short stories and outlining three of my 2020 projects: a horror novel, a novella project, and the third space opera book. Continue reading →
This Sunday, Catherine Lundoff will be teaching a class that’s particularly apropos for this Halloween-laden month, on one of my favorite flavors of horror: gothic fiction. She talks about some of the influences that have brought her to gothic fiction, and what she loves about it.
Edward Gorey was one of the guiding lights of my teenage years. I saw his sets for “Dracula” on Broadway when I was about twelve and it was like coming home, aesthetically, at least. I loved his black and white drawings, his weird stories, his obsessions with cats and opera singers. I still do. I like to think of him as my posthumous Fairy Gothmother, who opened the door to a marvelous dark universe where I could wear black all the time and didn’t need to pretend to be happy if I wasn’t.
I read Dracula, of course, and “Carmilla” and Poe and Wilde and Northanger Abbey. Austen turned me on to Ann Radcliffe, but I found Byron on my own. I discovered fashion, the kind where you rim your eyes with liner and wear multiple black on black outfits that have, perhaps, a hint of lace or silk, if you are lucky. And when I got to college, it was 1981 and there I found Adam Ant and Prince and Siouxsie Sioux, along with glorious morbid folk rock bands like Steeleye Span. So many murder ballads! So much gender play and glorious costumes! All of it became a part of me long before I thought of myself as a writer or a teacher or as Goth.
I devoured Gothic romances by the likes of Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart, Gothic horror in its multimedia splendor, even more murder ballads, artwork, outfits with all the black lace my teenage heart could imagine. Starting to write ghost stories and tales of haunted mansions could not be far behind, though in my case it started with vampire stories and editing the first (to the best of my knowledge) anthology of lesbian ghost stories. From there, I moved on to writing ghost stories myself as well as monster tales, media tie-ins, psychological horror, each story shaped and honed by my earlier reading and watching.
These days, I’m a huge fan of Gothic horror and romance films and shows like Crimson Peak, Penny Dreadful and The Addams Family. I’ve written horror tales for publications like Respectable Horror, Fireside Fiction and one of the Vampire the Gathering 20th Anniversary tie-in anthologies, as well as my own collection, Unfinished Business: Tales of the Dark Fantastic. A childhood enthusiasm has morphed into a lifelong affinity for ghosts, haunted mansions and various interpretations of the monstrous.
I love watching authors and other creators turn their eye to new interpretations of female and queer monsters and different kinds of outsider survivors. The Gothic Heroine doesn’t have to be a cisgendered white Final Girl or married under dubious circumstances to a love interest who is, perhaps, not to be trusted. I want to read more of these stories, as well as classics like The Woman in Black and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Let me help you bring your dark fiction into the light and help it come alive, no pun intended. Crimson Peaks and Menacing Mansions is an online class that I’m teaching on 10/13 from 9:30-11:30 PST at Cat Rambo’s Academy for Wayward Writers.. It will include a mix of lecture, discussion and writing exercises, as well as the opportunity to ask questions. I hope you’ll be intrigued enough to check it out!
That’s what one woman wrote in her pre-release review of my paranormal urban fantasy/romance/science fiction hybrid The Underground. What a fabulous compliment! I wasn’t going for weird when I wrote the story but that’s the way my mind works so I’m happy to know my weirdness shone through. Still, I wonder what it was about the novel she found strange. Could it be The Underground is the story of an alpha werewolf and an interstellar assassin who fall for each other? Hm…maybe it was the sex. It’s not every day one snags a ringside seat at the Bedroom Olympics where one of the partners is an eight-foot wolf.
Fairy tales have been around in one form or another for centuries, even if they weren’t written down and compiled into collections like Grimm’s Fairy Tales. They’ve changed over the centuries as well, shifting from folk stories to morality tales to more sanitized or “Disney-fied” versions of what they once were. In the process of this sanitization, oftentimes the messages the fairy tales purported to dictate have changed. Gone is the Little Mermaid who watched her beloved marry someone else, at which point she cast herself back into the ocean and drowned, showing us that you shouldn’t change for someone you love. Instead, we get the version where the mermaid and prince live happily ever after, flipping the moral to be that you can (and should?) change in order to make someone love you. Continue reading →
I’ve been reveling in a chance to be productive and at home after a summer so full of travel, and have been getting at least 1-2k words in on most days, plus I’ve gotten back to early morning gym runs, so hurray me and boo for the fact that it stays dark later and later every day.
It’s very much fall and drizzling rain here. The raccoons have devoured the last of the grapes from the grapevine, shelf fungi has sprouted at several points on the front porch, and we’re experiencing an invasion of Seattle’s notorious Giant House Spiders, so I feel ready for October. Recent experiences include leading a trivia team in the Clarion West Trivia Night, lots of gaming, and taking Seanan McGuire to the Washington State Fair. Also so many spiders lately. Just so many. We have a detente and when I catch them I let them go under the bookcase downstairs but I have also warned them I will destroy any egg sacs I find in the name of sanity.
Stephen King said, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” I don’t know many pro writers who disagree with him. We might debate how much reading is enough, and I think a lot of us struggle to find time for writing, reading, and the myriad other things we have to do to live. To me, that competition for time makes the time that I do have to read more important.
I’m a science fiction writer. Right now, I write military sci-fi thrillers. My debut novel, PLANETSIDE, came out in 2018 and the sequel, SPACESIDE, released in late August. I think it surprises people when I tell them that the biggest influence on PLANETSIDE was GONE GIRL, by Gillian Flynn. If you happened to have read both, you’re probably thinking to yourself…but wait…PLANETSIDE is nothing like GONE GIRL.
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Twenty fantasy stories of our world and others. Publisher's Weekly called them 'crisp and compelling'.
"If you want some really excellent stories, get the e-book. If you also want a physical object to warm the heart of any print-book collector, go for the paper version." Don Sakers, Asimov's
Cat's first nonfiction book talks about how to set up and maintain an online presence -- without cutting into your writing time.
Clockwork Fairies, a steampunk short story, originally appeared on Tor.com.