What’s New for 2018?

Hi everyone,

In case any of you have been wondering what the heck happened to me, and whether this blog is still alive, I wanted to give you a bit of a personal update.

Since I last posted, I have been busy editing fantasy novels and novellas for some wonderful clients – so busy that I had absolutely zero time for writing. I also moved into a day job that has been personally rewarding but extremely busy, so that even finding time for editing has been a challenge.

I came to the realization that this isn’t a great way of balancing my life, particularly since one of my long-time personal goals has been getting back to my creative side. Editing is wonderful, and it’s always inspiring to read the works of others, but darn it, I want to write my own!

So as of 2018, I have decided to put editing on the back burner, and am now focusing on writing my first urban fantasy novel instead, with the hope of self-publishing it in 2019.

I also want to pick up posting here again, providing communication tips through the lens of sci-fi and fantasy, while taking more time to read the posts of all of my blogging friends!

I expect it will take some time for me to get back into regular posting, and that “regular” will probably mean something like monthly, but it’s a start (or shall we say, a return!).

For those reading this, thank you for all your past support of my blogging, and I look forward to chatting with you as we see what the year brings!

All the best,

Sue

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Describing Setting Through Your Character’s Eyes

Hi everyone, it’s been a while! I hope all is well with you. For those of you who write fiction, you may be interested in this post I wrote for my editing blog today. I hope you find it useful!

Sue Archer

Think about one of your favourite fictional stories. Why did you like it so much?

I’ll bet a key reason you liked it is that the story had a character you cared about. Someone who felt real to you. Someone who drew you into their adventures and kept you captivated right to the very end of the plot.

It’s not easy to create a character who is consistently three-dimensional throughout a story. That’s why there are so many articles out there on strengthening the main character’s point of view.

woman's eyes Source: Wikimedia Commons

One item that is sometimes overlooked, though, is the relationship between character and setting. This is particularly important in stories that are intended to have a narrow narrative distance between the reader and the character.

When I edit scenes involving setting descriptions, a common piece of advice I give is to think about the scene from the character’s…

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Conversation Corner with James Pailly, Sci-Fi Writer and Science Blogger Extraordinaire

I’m thrilled to have James Pailly as a guest today on Doorway Between Worlds. I’m a devoted follower of James’s blog Planet Pailly, where he shares knowledge about science in a way that never fails to make me laugh while I learn. James also writes science fiction, and I thought he might have some interesting ideas to share about how to communicate sciency concepts to readers. I was right! Here is our conversation about high school fears, molecular personalities, and the art of bringing science into science fiction.

On your blog Mission Statement page (I love that title, by the way – very science fiction!), you talk about how you’re working on improving your scientific knowledge, so you can grapple with its complexities in your writing. What prompted you to share that research on science with others through your blog?

First off, thanks for inviting me!  I could never resist crossing a doorway between worlds.

I guess I started my blog because of a deep-rooted sense of insecurity.  As a kid, I loved Star Trek and Star Wars, but I hated science class.  Especially chemistry.  Chemistry and I are old, bitter adversaries.  So I grew up really wanting to write science fiction and knowing next to nothing about actual, factual science.

Most of my writing instructors reassured me that it didn’t matter.  Good storytelling comes first; just make up the sciency stuff.  But I couldn’t shake the fact that when it came to physics and astronomy and biology, I didn’t have a clue what I was talking about.  I felt embarrassed by my ignorance, and that stopped me from writing anything at all.

I believe the best way to overcome that kind of insecurity is to face it directly.  So in a moment of either extreme courage or extreme foolishness, I decided to teach myself science.  In order to ensure that I’d stick to it for more than a weekend, I also decided to blog about my research.  I figured regular blogging would keep me from getting lazy and that readers would hold me accountable if I made mistakes.

For the most part, it’s worked.  There’s still loads of science for me to learn, but I don’t feel so insecure about my ignorance.

That’s fantastic. I’m ignorant in a lot of areas of science, too, and I love learning about all the different things you talk about through your blog. How did you end up developing the ideas for your various series?

I’ve had multiple special series come and go on my blog.  Sciency Words is by far the longest running.  The original idea was that I’d write brief, dictionary-style definitions of important scientific terms.  Now Sciency Words posts are much longer and usually include what I describe as “highly technical scientific diagrams.”  Like this one:

Earth: Ahh!!! What are all these things crawling on me? Moon: I think some of them got on me too.

Image courtesy of James Pailly

The other currently active series is called Molecular Mondays.  Every other Monday, I focus specifically on that subject I dreaded most in school: chemistry.  This is another case of me directly facing my insecurities.  I’ve tried to talk myself into canceling this series several times now, but the feedback I’ve gotten has really surprised me.  Apparently I’m not the only one who struggled in chemistry class, and I guess people like to see that I’m not giving up on something just because it’s hard.

Yes! I am one of those who struggled with chemistry. I think part of the issue was that it wasn’t very relatable for me (as opposed to biology, which I did quite well in) – it felt abstract and boring. But your posts on chemistry are inspiring me to learn more. And your “highly technical scientific diagrams” are a big help in making it fun. Do you have a background in art? What do you see as the role of art in communication?

You know, the funny thing about studying art is that when you really get into it, when you’re learning to mix pigments and get them to adhere to a surface, you’re actually doing chemistry.  With figure studies, you’re doing anatomy and biology.  When you’re working with light and shadow, you’re starting to do physics.

I think a lot of science can feel abstract and boring, as you said.  Chemistry is especially guilty of this.  But once you get to know atoms and molecules, you find that they sort of have their own distinct personalities.  Carbon makes friends with everybody.  Helium just wants to be left alone.  Oxygen’s super greedy for everyone else’s electrons, and most metals are sort of blasé about letting their own electrons go.

Oxygen: Gimme, gimme, gimme!Oh, these old things? Take them, if you want.
Images courtesy of James Pailly

That’s not really a scientific way of thinking.  It’s sort of my artistic interpretation.  I take a bit of creative license on my blog, but I think a little creative license can help make science feel less abstract and more familiar.

Applying character development to scientific concepts is brilliant. (I can imagine science teachers taking fiction writing classes to broaden their communication skills.)

Actually, one of my favorite teachers — my high school physics teacher — wrote two episodes of Star Trek, one for The Next Generation and another for Voyager.  Now there was a man who knew how to turn science into good storytelling!

That is so cool! I wish my high school physics teacher had been a sci-fi writer. Although he had his own talents – he was a born comedian and a talented dancer. (He used to entertain us with some Russian dances if we asked nicely.) 🙂

I love that whole idea of cross-pollination between different knowledge areas. I’m curious – have you found that learning more about science has helped you with your original goal of improving your science fiction writing?

I have two science fiction projects that I’m actively working on.  The first is called Tomorrow News Network.  It’s a short story series about a journalist who travels through time, covering the biggest news stories in the galaxy before they happen.

I started writing T.N.N. shortly after I started blogging.  The T.N.N. universe is filled with fairly standard Sci-Fi tropes: wacky time machines, emotionless cyborgs, sprawling space empires, etc.  From the beginning, I’ve tried to fit my research in wherever I can, but T.N.N. is still what some would label “soft-core” science fiction.

Tomorrow News Network

Image courtesy of James Pailly

My other project is still in the world building stage, and I’m sort of approaching it in the opposite way to how I approached Tomorrow News Network.  This time, I’m starting with my research — specifically my research on planetary science, orbital mechanics, and chemistry (of course) — and I’m fitting in traditional Sci-Fi tropes wherever I can.

The result is a universe that feels much more grounded in reality.  At least, I hope so.  Also, with all the omnipresent hazards of space travel hanging over my main characters, I think this is a universe that will feel a whole lot more dangerous.

I’m so glad it’s been a worthwhile endeavour for you. I can’t wait to see the results! Before we wrap up our conversation, I was wondering — do you have any recommended resources for those who are interested in writing in the sci-fi genre?

A lot of science fiction writers seem to skip the research part of their work.  I’m not saying you have to go research-crazy like I do, but you can find a lot of cool story ideas buried in scientific literature.  Real life science is often weirder and more wonderful than anything you could possibly imagine.

So I’m going to repeat a piece of advice from Isaac Asimov (at least, I think it’s from Asimov).  He told new science fiction writers to get a subscription to Scientific American.  They’re one of the best at making science accessible without oversimplification.

Of course, the world has changed a bit since Asimov’s time, and now you can find quality science journalism all over the Internet for free.  You’ve got websites like Live Science, Universe Today, and Space.com (although these websites are sometimes guilty of oversimplification). Magazines like Popular Science and Scientific American post a lot of their articles online too.

And if you feel like diving into the more technical stuff, check out Google Scholar.  It’s Google for academic papers (as opposed to regular Google, which searches the entire Internet).  Actually, Google Scholar is an amazing resource no matter what subject you’re trying to research, and I’m surprised by how few people seem to know it’s there.

Thanks, James! I used to love reading Scientific American, and I need to get back to it.

Finally, just for fun, I have to ask: Which do you like better? Star Wars or Star Trek? (Or something else? I’m a Babylon 5 person myself.)

Oh jeez, you’re going to get me in trouble.  Okay, I’d normally pick Star Trek, but… the trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story just came out.  I’m pretty excited about Star Wars right now.

I think we all are! Thanks so much for being such a great guest, James, and sharing your thoughts with my readers. You’re welcome back any time!

***

Do you have a question for James, or a comment on our interview? Please leave your thoughts below – we’d love to continue the conversation with you!

Monumental Mistake or Matter of Style?

Some thoughts I wrote today for my editing blog on when something is a true writing “error” (which doesn’t happen as often as you might think)!

Sue Archer

All the recent discussions around Amazon’s updated policy on error flagging have made me think about what truly constitutes an “error.” Language is fluid, and its rules of usage continue to evolve over time. What our teachers told us to do in elementary school is not always the right way to approach things today.

So how do you know whether you’re on the right track when you’re writing? When you receive your edited manuscript and it’s full of markups, is it time for you to panic? I’m sure many of us have experienced that gut-wrenching feeling of failure when we encounter all those red marks. I know I have!

This is why I like to write detailed comments as I edit — so I can explain why I’ve made a change. When I perform a stylistic/copy edit, there are a number of reasons why I mark up a manuscript…

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Captain Comma and the Rise of the Romantic Robots

Hi everyone,

Last year I posted a prologue for a series of stories I wanted to write about Captain Comma and her crew. I’ve finally had time to write the first tale. Since we’ve just been through Valentine’s Day, I decided now was a good time to post it. Enjoy!

Captain Comma

Captain’s Personal Log, Bookdate 021416.

Today I received the details of our new mission from Admiral Apostrophe. Spot and I were in the middle of enjoying our usual romantic Valentine’s Day dinner (cheesy vegetarian lasagna for me, spicy chocolate-flavoured protein cubes for Spot) when we were interrupted by the system notification of our new story destination. It would have to be YA fiction…

 

“You’re kidding me,” said Sergeant Semi-Colon.

We’d materialized in the middle of a stereotypical high school corridor. Institutional grey lockers lined the walls, interrupted occasionally by beige classroom doors with narrow cross-hatched windows designed to keep out the light. The linoleum floors were a speckled white that failed to hide the stains. I could smell the remnants of rotten food, sweat, and desperation.

“Why do they have to make everything so bleak? It’s not like high school is the end of the world. Heck, I survived it just fine.” The Sergeant casually waved around his semi-automatic punctuation gun.

“Easy for you to say,” murmured Ensign Parenthesis. “You weren’t the skinny wimp who got picked on by all the girls.”

“Enough. We’re not here to change the tone, we’re just here to observe and see what sentences need fixing,” I said.

“Well, there doesn’t seem to be anything happening here, Captain,” said the Sergeant. Spot barked her agreement, littering an exclamation mark on the floor. Normally I’d be upset by her failure of protocol, but in this place, it’s not like anyone would notice.

A bell shrilled, and students began to pour out into the hall. Holding out my scanner, I looked for the source of the word disturbance.

“Uh-oh, here they come,” said Ensign Parey.

I looked up to find a group of four girls coming towards us. Although they were dressed in bright colours, their mannerisms were dull and impassive. They moved jerkily down the hall, shuffling their feet as they spoke to each other in monotonous voices.

“Suzy did you hear what happened to Scarlet.”

“No what’s the deal.”

“Well I heard that Brandon was going to ask her to go out with him. But then Jacinda got to him first and told him Scarlet was a horrible witch that nobody liked.”

“Wow that’s harsh.”

“Oh I don’t know. It’s not as if she’s exactly Brandon material.”

“Yeah I hear you.”

“Freeze page,” I commanded. The girls halted steps away from Ensign Parey, who backed away cautiously.

“Well, that was exciting,” said the Sergeant. “Luckily, I know just the thing to spice things up.” He patted the enormous barrel of his gun.

“Sorry, Mico, but I don’t think we’re going to need the heavy guns today. Looks like a classic case of comma failure.”

“I knew you were going to say that.”

“Your time will come,” I promised. I pulled out my punctuation phaser and set it to “Vocative comma.” “Parey, do you recall what the vocative comma is for?” I figured a distraction was in order, since he was looking a little green.

“Um…isn’t that something you use when you’re addressing someone by name?”

“Excellent,” I said, and fired.

“Suzy, did you hear what happened to Scarlet,” said the first girl, and stopped.

“I still think it’s creepy when we do that,” said Parey, who bravely came up to examine her.

“Aw, you get used it,” said Mico. “You just have to remember they’re not actually real.”

While the two of them talked shop, I set my phaser to rapid interjection with yes/no on a comma setting. I didn’t think we needed any exclamation marks. That dialogue was bad enough already.

“No,” “Well,” Wow,” “Oh,” “Yeah,” the girls chimed in.

“That was almost musical, captain,” complimented Mico.

Spot pawed at my polished regulation boots and cocked her head at the teenagers.

“All right, Spot. Go ahead and give them their question marks, so they can come alive.”

Spot barked twice, and we were ready to replay.

“Restart scene,” I commanded.

The girls bounded down the corridor, talking animatedly and gesturing with their hands.

Suzy, did you hear what happened to Scarlet?

“No, what’s the deal?

Well, I heard that Brandon was going to ask her to go out with him. But then Jacinda got to him first and told him Scarlet was a horrible witch that nobody liked.”

“Wow, that’s harsh.”

“Oh, I don’t know. It’s not as if she’s exactly Brandon material.”

“Yeah, I hear you.”

Parey watched them as they continued on down the corridor. “I can’t say I’m going to miss this place. Talk about bad memories.”

“What did you think of high school, Captain?” asked Mico.

“Oh, that’s a story for another day,” I said.

 

Captain’s Personal Log, Bookdate 021516.

Well, the mission was successfully accomplished. It’s been a while since I’ve had to correct interjections. Visiting that YA story made me think about all the drama that I went through in high school. I wonder how Slash is doing now, and if I’ll ever see him again…

***

Thank you to my son for the fabulous illustration.

I hope you enjoyed the first Captain Comma story. Stay tuned for further adventures! And if you have any comments, suggestions for future story topics, or questions about commas, please feel free to post them below. Thanks for reading!

 

© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2016

To Blog or Not to Blog? What’s Coming for 2016

Have you ever wished you could clone yourself, so that you could do everything you wanted to do?

Yep, me too.

This is the longest I’ve ever gone without blogging, and it’s amazing how much I’ve missed it. I’ve missed the fun of challenging myself to write creatively about grammar. I’ve missed the conversations I’ve had in the comments. I’ve missed the joy of discovering wonderful new posts written by my fellow bloggers (because I haven’t had time to read, let alone write).

But I’m happy to have had this break, because I’ve been able to avoid missing other things that are important in my life.

And I’ve come to a realization: With everything I’m trying to do right now, it’s just not possible for me to blog every week any more. In fact, I may only be able to blog once a month sometimes.

And that’s okay.

What do you mean, it's okay? I'm having a genuine Shakespearian crisis over this here...

What do you mean, it’s okay? I’m having a genuine Shakespearean crisis over this here…

Like me, you’ve probably run across a zillion articles that might as well have titles like

Start a Blog or Lose All Hope of Ever Selling Yourself!

Blog Every Day or Google Will Rip You to Shreds and Eat You!

Master Building Your Platform if You Don’t Want to Be That Kid Who’s All Alone At Recess!

What a bunch of hooey. (I love that word!)

I firmly believe that writing good, meaningful content is more important than racing on a writing treadmill to stay at the top of the hit list.

My initial goal in blogging was to share what I know about communication in a fun and informative way. I hope I’ve done some of that.

But I’ve discovered along the way that I have gained another complementary goal in blogging that’s just as important – to read and learn from my fellow bloggers and to share their words with others.

So I’ve decided to make a change in my approach this year. I’m still going to write creative posts about grammar, hold conversations about communication with other writers, and let you know about helpful writing resources. But I’m going to do it less often. I’ll be posting on a Monday if I have a post for the week. I’ll also be writing occasional posts about editing on my editing website.

In parallel, I’m going to make more use of Twitter as a tool to share words from other writers and editors.

If you’re interested in learning more about communication from people other than me (as well as from me, I hope!), I invite you to follow me at @dbwcomm. I promise to make it worth your while – no clickbait articles or promotional madness!

Thank you for being so supportive of my blog. I hope to see you here again before January is out!

Cheers,

Sue

Friday Flashback: Attack of the Jargon Gorgon

I’m sorry that things have been quiet here lately — I’ve had a number of projects on the go, and unfortunately there’s been no time to write a blog post. It’s frustrating, because I want to get going with my upcoming series on Captain Comma and her crew. With the holidays coming up, I suspect she’ll be making her debut in the New Year. Stay tuned!

I’ve been slogging my way through a lot of business writing this week, and it made me think of this story I posted back in July 2014. It feels like the right post for a Friday after a long week. I hope you enjoy it!

Attack of the Jargon Gorgon

As he climbed the marble staircase of the Temple of Empowerment, Perceiveus prepared himself to face his greatest foe: Mesnooza, the Jargon Gorgon. Her confusing words had paralyzed many heroes before him. Perceiveus was determined not to make the same mistake.

He reached the top and found Mesnooza waiting for him in the torchlit chamber. He averted his gaze, catching only a glimpse of her glittering eyes. Her features were hidden behind the wall of writhing serpents that gushed from her head like oil-slick tongues. He didn’t need to see the rest of her to know that she was hideous.

Medusa by Caravaggio

“So, your stakeholders have finally sent you to deliver the goods,” said Mesnooza, affecting boredom. “Well, you may have an impressive body of work, but you’re just the flavour of the month to me.”

“We hope you had a game plan before you took on this stretch assignment,” hissed one of her serpent locks.

“You can fire away, but you’ll never be buzzworthy,” pronounced another serpent.

“You think you’re bleeding edge, but you’ve had your heyday,” taunted a third serpent.

Perceiveus ignored the serpent chorus. He circled Mesnooza with caution as her serpents stretched towards him. He flung a dagger at her heart, but she danced away from it.

“I hope you level-set your tiger team, because a win’s not in the cards for you,” sang Mesnooza. Her serpent speakers echoed her.

“It’s time for you to eat a reality sandwich, and stop chasing butterflies.”

“Should have done your due diligence before giving in to blue-sky thinking.”

“Those red flags might have warned you that this was a career-limiting move.”

Perceiveus struggled to concentrate. He grabbed a torch from the wall and thrust it at the nearest serpent. It cried out in pain and went silent. Enraged, a nearby serpent bit his arm, denting his armour. Another serpent whipped him across the face, and he staggered back.

“I don’t think you’re giving this one-hundred-and-ten percent,” snarled Mesnooza, upset by the fiery attack. “Time to go back to the bush league.”

“Feeling hot under the collar?” sneered a serpent. “You’re on a burning platform, and you’re dealing with a bag of snakes.”

“Face it, you’re behind the eight ball. Time to pay the piper.”

“Too many balls in the air. You can’t hack it,” spat another serpent.

Hack it. Sword! In the confusion of battle, Perceiveus had forgotten his primary weapon. He drew his blade and began slicing through his reptilian enemies.

“You might think you’re making an impact, but I’m not low-hanging fruit,” panted Mesnooza, as she dodged his blows. Her serpents were not faring as well. Their voices became weaker as their numbers diminished.

“You might be gaining traction, but you haven’t moved the needle,” one murmured as it went unconscious.

“You think you have your ducks in a row, but we’re playing hardball,” whispered another faintly.

“Time to…think outside the box!” croaked a wounded serpent, before Perceiveus cut its neck clean through.

Mesnooza was exhausted. No one had ever stood up to her power, and she did not know what to do. Her single remaining serpent seemed to realize the game was up.

“Let’s get down to brass tacks and bottom-line it,” said the serpent. “It’s cut and dry that it’s time to put this to bed. Time to fish or cut bai-”

Perceiveus looked up from the serpent’s severed head. “It’s over, Mesnooza.”

But Perceiveus had made the mistake of looking Mesnooza in the eye. Now that she was no longer hidden behind her jargon serpents, Perceiveus could see her true face. She was the most beautiful woman that he had ever beheld.

“I’m sorry I caused you trouble,” she said. “I feel so free now, like a great weight has been lifted from me.”

Perceiveus was stunned into silence.

While Perceiveus stared, Mesnooza slipped away through a side door and escaped from the temple. Who knew that I could stop men in their tracks without my jargon? she thought. Enough of that ugliness. It’s time for me to start a new life. And I’ll create a new name to go with it. Hmmm. I’ve always liked Helen…

***

Image: Medusa by Caravaggio. Source: Wikipedia.

I hope you enjoyed my retelling of Perseus and Medusa. This story was inspired by my difficulties in cutting through jargon in a business environment. What jargon have you heard that brings on your fighting spirit?

 

© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015