Author Archives: Guy Anthony De Marco

It Takes a Village (Full of Weirdos)

Welcome to March 13th, and the first morning of a bright Full Moon. Both of these facts should contribute to my essay, hopefully for the better.

Photo by Guy Anthony De MarcoI’ve been writing off and on since 1977. More off than on, just like my normal mental state. The first few stories I horrifically assembled were based on some dreams with the antics of some of my friends mixed in. I was still in high school and I hung out with the freaks, geeks, and weirdos. I also spent time with some of the stoner and drug using folks, even though I never partook. (No, really, I was even sorta famous for it.) On top of that, I was friendly with many of the jocks, and even tried out for the baseball team as a pitcher. I still think I didn’t get on the team because I drilled the coach with a line shot off of his cranium during a practice. Well, that or because I had a wicked fast ball that I couldn’t control. Anyways…

Over the years, I’ve made friends and lost some, drifted apart or buried others. Most of the time I admit I was just too lazy to send a letter or pick up the phone to say hello. Some folks were just acquaintances or Friends-of-Friends.

Some folks were people I once just said hello to. A good example is Fiona. My wife and I were going through the checkout line at the North Island Commissary (like a military store), and the young lady who was ringing things up was the Uber Queen of the Goths. Every bit of exposed skin was pale, like the pallor of the dead. Fiona wore all black, of course. She was also very nice and friendly. For years my wife and I would recall Fiona out of the blue. The only reason we know her name is because of her name tag. She’s appeared in two of my books in one form or another.

All of the friends, acquaintances, and random weirdos and strangers I’ve encountered in my life at one time or another are all now living as part of the DNA in the characters I write. I never try to copy them directly — it would feel like plagiarizing meatspace. I take tiny bits of personality and blend them together. The subtle half-wink as they tell a joke; the way their voice wavers as they yell in anger; the way they smell because they don’t believe in deodorant. All of these slices can come together to create a complete and believable character. In many cases, I know why they do what they do. The old friend who never used deodorant was too poor to afford the luxury. That background adds seasoning for characters. Now I know how they may act in certain situations, like finding an envelope of hundred dollar bills in a donated dresser. That pungent friend would do his best to find the rightful owner because he knows what it feels like to be destitute.

One should be careful not to make the characters recognizable. In many cases, it can cause hurt feelings. If I copied a friend down to a speech impediment and a facial birthmark, then gave it to a horrific villain who tortures small fuzzy animals for kicks, you can rest assured that my friend would be quite irate (and probably move into the ‘former friend’ category.) Always make the characters you create a collection of traits put into a blender and hit the frappe button a few times. The froth you end up with can then be used to make believable, realistic characters that seem like they’re someone you know intimately — because they are.

There are times you have to create characters that are outside of your scope of knowledge. Take a walk around and listen to strangers. Take notes, write down interesting descriptions, and even consider saying hello. You might end up with a new friend and a protagonist outline in one fell swoop.


About the Author:DeMarco_Web-5963

Guy Anthony De Marco is a disabled US Navy veteran speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award® nominee; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Sojourner Tales modules, Interface Zero 2.0 core team, third-party D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.
A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, NCW, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at Wikipedia and GuyAnthonyDeMarco.com.

Adding Sexual Tension

First off, everyone here at The Fictorians wishes you a Happy Valentine’s Day!

Sexual tension can always be expected in any romance or erotica story, but it can always work as a major or subordinate plot point for your speculative fiction work. While the ideas I point out here are not specific to any genre, they can be used in any work to spice things up.

So what exactly is sexual tension? It’s not people and/or aliens going at it like Captain Kirk and the green-skinned Orion woman. It’s everything that happens before the sexual act. Unfortunately, people don’t really think about some of the details that go into an attraction, especially since we tend to be blind to it.

First Contact Protocol

The sexual tension was overwhelming Kirk…

When two individuals meet, there has to be some kind of signals sent and received that they find each other at least interesting. This is that “chemistry” thing movies and OKCupid accounts always go on about. Sometimes we don’t even realize this is happening. Our brains flip a few switches associated with that person and puts it in the “this other person is someone I’m interested in learning more about” section of your memory.

To really get this across to the reader, you need to show some signs using all of the senses. In addition, using a point-of-view that allows poking around inside someone’s thoughts will go a long way. Have them meet each other’s gaze, which is extremely overused so make the situation unique. Maybe she smells something that makes her think of her first love, and it turns out it is the natural musk of a female Sklorr from Bernard’s Star. Perhaps a man is working on a widget in the engine room and hears someone singing lightly to themselves in three-part harmony, only for him to discover it is a Gnork from Vega, which happens to be a gender-neutral species. Maybe two characters from different worlds bump into each other in the cantina and all they can think about is the feeling of feathers and scales brushing against each other. Get as much in there as you can, but spread it out a bit so you don’t fall into the laundry list problem.

For many guys (and some gals), there is a “checking out the other character” moment. The other one may not even realize it, but there is certainly some ogling and appreciation for the form and figure. They have a strong visual mode tied to their sexual sensory input for their brains. This can be utilized to show at least one has some interest in the other character(s).

Go To Jail, Do Not Pass Go

Since we’re trying to ramp up the sexual tension, the characters cannot decide they like each other and start banging away against the main engine, although that worked great for Kaylee in Firefly. There has to be good reasons why they could never be together. It could be position — no, not that position, I mean one could be an officer and one enlisted. Maybe there’s a taboo against being with that Sklorr… “I heard they eat their mates after they’re done.” One man may be on his way to Jupiter to start a new job as a special investigator while the Gnork from Vega is a jewel thief wanted in three planetary systems. There are plenty of options available to you, but make certain it is a good, logical reason.

Because they are definitely interested in each other in a romantic way, being forced apart will make them constantly think about each other, sometimes focusing on the little details. When we are smitten, we tend to experience everything our romantic other does as a performance. We note how one corner of their mouth doesn’t curl up as much as the other when they smile, or how the tone of their laughter makes our hearts flutter (especially during Valentine’s Day!)

Frustration and Calamity

It’s important that things keep getting in the way of the characters pursuing each other. If they were so close to each other that they can smell each other’s toothpaste, have someone (such as the comic relief character) stumble into the room just microseconds before their lips were going to touch. Have the Sklorr set up a nice date with her human girlfriend, only to have the transport tube break down on the way to the restaurant. The human will be angry and wonder if her date stood her up, while the Sklorr will be frustrated that her romantic date she planned out in detail was ruined because of a tiny component she forgot to replace when she worked on the tube system this morning.

By keeping them apart when they’re so desperate to be together, we create lots of sexual tension. The reader is wondering every time the two characters are in a scene together if they’ll finally get to that all-important first kiss. You want to keep the audience guessing until late into the middle section of the novel. But will they go further? You can fill in those details at the (ahem) climax of the manuscript.


 

About the Author:DeMarco_Web-5963

Guy Anthony De Marco is a disabled US Navy veteran speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award® nominee; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Sojourner Tales modules, Interface Zero 2.0 core team, third-party D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.
A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, NCW, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at Wikipedia and GuyAnthonyDeMarco.com.

Creating Tension with a Ticking Clock

How can you tell when a clock is really tense?
When it’s all wound up.

Creating tension by using some form of a limit is one of the easiest methods to ratchet up the tension in any manuscript, from novel to play to movie script. When many newer authors first hear about adding in a “ticking clock”, they immediately think of a suspense movie where the hero has to defuse the bomb before the time reaches zero. While this is a very common trope, it goes beyond that limited scope.

What’s a Ticking Clock?

A ticking clock is an example of something that is constrained and must be dealt with, lest the characters have to deal with serious (and often dire) consequences if they fail. The entire plot can be constructed around the ticking clock, or it can be something smaller, such as a scene, where the protagonists have to get something done immediately.

In honor of Carrie Fisher’s passing recently, I’ve been re-watching Star Wars. They have a whole slew of ticking clocks embedded within the script. For example, Han, Chewie, and Luke have to rescue Leia from the Death Star’s prison block because she is scheduled for execution. The ticking clock is the time limit they have to rescue her, and the consequence of failure is the character will be killed. Another example is Luke and Leia running away from the guards and getting trapped by the missing walkway. Under fire, Luke closes the door and blasts the controls, not thinking that they probably control the retracted walkway. The Stormtroopers are trying to open the door — that’s the ticking clock. Luke and Leia have to escape, or else they’ll be shot — that’s the consequence of failure. The audience was sitting on the edges of their movie theatre chairs in 1977, wondering if they’d make it. That’s tension.

Got Any Examples Without Using a Clock?

Sure! How about the old black and white movie “House on Haunted Hill” with Vincent Price? There are two versions of a ticking clock in that movie. There’s the usual version we talked about (the characters have to survive the night in a haunted house) plus the characters are getting killed off one by one. That’s a countdown where we’re wondering who the killer is — he or she must be with the house guests. Will we find out before they run out of living people? Is the killer even human?

I Write (Insert Genre Here). Can I Use a Ticking Clock?

The ticking clock method of generating tension in a story can be used anywhere in fiction. Here’s some more examples:

  • Western: Sandra has to ride the last stagecoach to Cheyenne Wells to see her mortally wounded cavalry husband and tell him that she’s pregnant. The stagecoach is overcrowded and the occupants are dying one at a time. (Three clocks: a time limit for Sandra to reach her husband, else he dies without knowing he will be a father; the passengers are dying one by one so who is the killer; and the killer must be done before the stage reaches Cheyenne Wells.)
  • Romance: Barb has to get to the church on time to prevent the wedding of the childhood sweetheart she’s still in love with to a manipulative, evil woman. (Clocks: Prevent the wedding; Barb telling him that she is in love with him before he’s married.)
  • Science Fiction: A captain has to get to a planetary system in a disputed sector to rescue a plague research team because the local sun will go nova. Unfortunately, someone drops a vial and catches the plague. (Clocks: Get to the planet to save the team before the sun goes boom; will they be able to find a cure for the plague before they all die; can they deal with any enemies they meet on the way to the planet quickly enough to save the team.)
  • Fantasy: Gnorl has enough magic to do three more powerful spells. Can he and Kahzoo, his ever-drunk swordfighting friend, save the princess before she is forced to marry the evil Prince Mal of Serenity? (Clocks: Limit of three spells; can Kahzoo stay sober long enough to fight; can they save the princess before Gnorl is out of power and Kahzoo’s liver goes supernova; prevent the wedding.)

Setting up a ticking clock is a particularly good way for beginning writers to add tension to their stories. Most writers are familiar with the general idea and they’ve probably seen enough of them in the movie theatres.

The most important things to setting up a ticking clock/limited something scenario are:

  • Something must actually be limited or constrained. Time is the most used example, but anything can be used as long as it is clear that there are a certain number and no more.
  • The consequences of failing to complete the task must be severe. The audience must be concerned that the threatened character(s) or things (like a planet) will be irrecoverably damaged, hurt, or lost entirely.
  • Never give the protagonists a reprieve. Keep the pressure on — in fact, ramp it up more as they go. Maybe the wedding is moved up a day or the plague ship is running out of fuel so they’ll have to land in a populated area to get some.
  • Give the audience something when/if the protagonists do finish the task successfully. The heroine gets a kiss from her true love; the ship’s doctor gets promoted for finding the cure; the lady riding the stagecoach figures out who the killer is and stabs him through the heart with a hatpin. There should be some form of emotional release.

Look at the time! Get back to writing!


 

About the Author:DeMarco_Web-5963

Guy Anthony De Marco is a disabled US Navy veteran speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award® nominee; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Sojourner Tales modules, Interface Zero 2.0 core team, third-party D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.
A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, NCW, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at Wikipedia and GuyAnthonyDeMarco.com.

Getting Started with Organizing Your Projects

Like most of the authors I know, I’m not a naturally organized person. Sometimes it’s a struggle to force myself to get the major plot points or non-fiction chapters mapped out before I start on a new project. After installing a giant electronic whiteboard I picked up on CraigsList, I was able to see the value of the visual cues and mind-mapping when hashing out a new project.

When it comes to my writing laptop, appropriately named “Novel Factory”, I tended to start writing and just dump everything into the My Documents folder. When I set a project aside for a while, I sometimes have a problem locating where I put the documents, notes, and/or pictures. That’s why I created an organized area for projects.

The first step was to create a home for my projects. This is a set of nested folders so I know where things are located. In My Documents (I use Windows for this example), I have a folder called !Master Project Files. I place an exclamation point at the beginning of this folder name to make sure it appears at the top of the listing.

I have enough projects where I had to add in a layer between the Master folder and the project names.

Here is my main overall folder structure:

  • !Master Project Files
    • Fiction
      • Science Fiction
      • Cyberpunk
      • Fantasy
      • Horror
      • Western
      • Graphic Novels
    • Non-Fiction
      • Cookbooks
      • Author’s Handbook Series
      • One-Offs
    • Poetry
      • !Poem Superstore
      • Chapbooks
    • Collections
      • !Short Story Superstore
    • Anthologies
      • Original (Add in Submissions and Contracts folders to each Project)
      • For Other Publishers (Add in Submissions and Contracts folders to each Project)

The “Superstores” are short stories and poems that have been published elsewhere or are original unpublished works that are available to put into a new collection or chapbook. When I complete a short work or poem, I make sure to put a copy in the Superstores.

For each project, I copy the below generic project folder structure and rename it to the title of my new project. Inside some of these folders are appropriate files. For example, in the Word folder, I have a generic Word document set up with my preferences (font, margins, etc.), whereas in the Research folders I have a simple text document ready to accept notes and URLs. In the Final folders, I have documents that have my set publishing templates for interiors and covers. Note that I have a folder called Graveyard. I never throw away (delete) anything. If I cut something, such as a scene or a whole story arc out of a book, I paste it to text documents and place them in the graveyard. I can use these later on to develop short stories, to generate ideas for a series, or to use the words for marketing. Sometimes I file off the serial numbers and reuse them in other books.

Here’s my individual project folder structure:

  • Project Name (Rename Me)
    • Manuscript
      • Word
      • Text
      • Scrivener
    • Images
      • Cover Ideas
      • Characters
      • Places
      • Objects
    • Research
      • Concepts
      • Scientific
    • Characters
    • Tropes
    • Marketing
      • Ideas
      • Ads
      • SWOT
    • Final
      • Print
        • Interior
        • Cover
      • eBook
        • Interior
        • Cover
      • Audio
        • Notes
        • Script
    • Graveyard

When I have a new project, I copy the “Project Name” folder and its contents and place it in the appropriate genre master folder. Then I rename it to the book title. Now I can find all of my information for any project in one location (three, if you count the backup on my server and the copy linked and auto-uploaded to my commercial Dropbox account.)

Hopefully this will inspire you to create a better organized virtual home for your darlings. Have a happy, prosperous, and productive 2017!


 

About the Author:DeMarco_Web-5963

Guy Anthony De Marco is a disabled US Navy veteran speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award® nominee; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Sojourner Tales modules, Interface Zero 2.0 core team, third-party D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.
A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, NCW, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at Wikipedia and GuyAnthonyDeMarco.com.