Sunday, July 7, 2013

Valleys and Peaks

As I write this, I've just managed to finally pull myself out of about a two week slump: mentally, spiritually, creatively. The creative well developed a crack and dried up, my spirits plummeted, and everything seemed bleak and flat. In my earlier years, this probably would have triggered a slide into dull depression but now that I've reached my thirties, I've come to recognize and embrace the ebb and flow of the creative process, to understand that the high of finishing a project is usually followed by a period of low, that feeling down and dull is just that, a feeling. Eventually it will go away. The muse will return, ideas will bloom to life again, and soon words will start flowing on the keyboard. 

So, with recovered energy, I am back at work on Clouds of War, a process that has involved liberal applications of Wikipedia. So far, my research topics have included:
- grades of bituminous coal
- coal mining equipment 
- types of coal mining
- water desalination techniques
- Gibraltar's position in the 19th century
- smuggling
- Spanish tariffs
- types of cannons (long gun, cannonade)
- 19th century period clothing for marine captains (On this particular note, most captains at this time period wore breeches and stockings, which Captain Roberts doesn't like - see following

Although he had been master of the Horizon for over three months now, Roberts had yet to look the part and was reluctant to do so, both out of parsimony and a deeply abiding conviction that he'd be damned if he was going to wear stockings every day. At times during his tenure as first mate of the Lucky Lady, he had reluctantly donned a formal uniform, but Captain Albert had usually been too drunk to much care what his first officer was wearing. As a result, Roberts had long gotten away with workman's clothing and he wasn't eager to give them up for breeches and epaulets even if such items unmistakably marked him as an airship captain.

Happily for Captain Roberts, by the 1850's, the tricorn captain hat had fallen out of style. I can't imagine Captain Roberts in a tricorn and I think if I tried to put him in one, he would stride off my laptop and refuse to cooperate until he could go back to practical clothing again. And no silly pointed hats with feathers. 

In this past week, I've been part of a lively discussion on The Steampunk Empire thanks to a blog post I created that outlines a gripe I have with much steampunk fiction: that is the overabundance of SFC (strong female character): the gorgeous, brainy woman who knows everything, can throw a mean punch, and leaves males in her dust trail. Dozens of people chimed in their ideas, and the result was a great deal of intelligent, meaningful debate about gender roles, character development, and plot twists. Several people argued that the problem wasn't so much the SFC overkill in steampunk but the problem of badly written, one-dimensional characters. 

One character problem I've encountered in too many books (steampunk or not) is where most of the characters share the same basic speech patterns and word choice so it is impossible to tell through dialogue alone who is talking because they all sound the same. In contrast, when writing Steam on the Horizon  I labored hard to give each character his/her own unique speech rhythm so they have marked differences in how they talk. 

Another problem, and this does occur in steampunk fiction, is overly stylized and formal speech, particularly when it is not warranted. I recently read a review of Boneshaker on The Steampunk Empire, and the writer complained that the characters often talked in long, formal sentences during tense, dangerous situations. Another steampunk book (whose name escapes my attention) had these exceedingly tedious, drawn out dialogues between the male main character and his female protagonist that, while most likely period and keeping with Victorian style, were a booger to wade through. After all, why bother using ten words when seven hundred would do?

A final character development problem I see (and this is one prevalent in most SFC) is the prevalence of the uber-competent: the wave of characters that are all abundantly skilled in various areas (fighting, engineering, navigation), never make mistakes, and are fantastically talented. This is neither realistic nor particularly interesting to read, and goes a good way towards creating one-dimension characters. 

With that, I think I will go back to some character development and turn my attention back to Clouds of War

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