Archive for June, 2010

The Emotion of Science Fiction

June 30, 2010

By definition science fiction stories are driven by the possibilities of known and unknown science. But pure science rarely makes for a good story. Humans are not mechanical machines. Emotion plays a significant role in every part of our daily lives, and any story involving humans (and, I think, aliens as well.) requires the characters have emotional depth.

I love to develop interesting characters: independent, plucky women, and strong — but not superhuman – men, with a strong sense of honor. But our daily experience proves no one is perfect. Weakness is a reality. For the story to ring true, our characters, both good and bad, can’t always be strong, and self assured. What will they do when pushed too far? Collapse, or fight on? Run screaming from the room, or face the threat head on?

In a good science fiction story, the science is important, but without believable characters it is just a boring series of related facts. Bring on the angst, the challenges, the strengths and weaknesses of mankind. (and alien-kind.) Make your protagonists earn their victories, even if they don’t fully realize what it is they’ve won (or lost).

That will make an interesting story!

Clifford M. Scovell
Prison Earth – Not Guilty as Charged


Show and Tell

June 29, 2010

I was recently asked to give editing advice to an umpublished author. He shows great promise, but the story suffered from one of the most common failings of beginning writers: telling vs. showing.

My own mentor, Jessica Maxwell, whose latest book, Roll Around Heaven won a Nautilus Award gold medal for spiritual writing, has done her best to drill this one thing into my head.

Show, don’t tell.

We tell stories, but when we’re writing, we need to show our readers what is going on. To show the reader what is happening will create a much more mesmerizing tale than if you just tell them.

Let me give you an example:

Telling is:
He pushed through the grimy door, anxious momentarily because he couldn’t see her. His eyes adjusted to the darkness. The naked woman lay sprawled on the blue mat, but he could see she was still securely tied. He could hear the chains rattling, and smelled her fear.
He smiled while holding up his knife. “Pleased to see me, my dearest? I know I’m glad you decided to stay.”
He was evil, and she was afraid.

Showing is:
His breath caught as he pushed open the grimy door. For an agonizing moment the darkness hid everything, but sharp, anxious breaths assured him she was still here. Slowly, his eyes adjusted to the dim light, and his heart soared as the ghostly apparition before him slowly transformed into a naked woman sprawled on a blue mat.
Taking in a relieved breath, his attention jumping to her hands still securely tied above her head. He lifted his knife and carefully tested its razor-sharp edge as the shackles on her ankles rattled.
“Pleased to see me, my dearest?” he sing-songed while giving the knife another quick once-over before focusing again on the squirming woman whimpering through the tape over her mouth “I know I’m glad you decided to stay.”

Tell me the second example doesn’t make you want to read more? Or better yet, run screaming from the room.

Clifford M. Scovell
Prison Earth – Not Guilty as Charged

The Whimsy of Public Interest

June 28, 2010

I was reading comments on a New York Times review of the newly released movie based on Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The responses were consistent with what I’d seen after the release of the recent Moonlight series, and before that, Harry Potter. As with our American politics, we either love it, or despise it.

I haven’t seen the movie, but as a writer, I’m sure I’m not alone when I observe that we whose obsession it is to string words into stories have always been at the mercy of the public’s whim. Even so, I was appalled, but not really surprised when another NY Times article commented on how the big publishing houses are hunting down writers from Sweden, and can’t shove six-figured checks into their hands fast enough.

I give a great cheer for those lucky writers who get their moment in the sun. It doesn’t matter what country you are from. If the story is there, and the writing supports it, the publishers should give them a chance. My only complaint is that very talented American writers are being overlooked in the publishing world’s drive to print everything Swedish. The bookstores are going to have to reorganize their shelves.

“Yes, Ma’am. We have that book. It is in the Mysteries section, under Swedish writers. And while you’re there, check out the Danish section. They’re almost like the Swedish.”

Don’t say that out loud in front of a Dane.

Clifford M. Scovell
Prison Earth – Not Guilty as Charged

The Best Book You Never Read

June 26, 2010

There are so many ways to get published today: traditional large publisher, small press, self-publishing, e-books, blogs, web sites, the list goes on.

As a writer, I try to use many of these, or at least I consider them. I think all writers still want to be picked up by a large publishing house. Like winning an award, it means you’ve made it. The big houses have connections you simply can’t make any other way. The old-school publishing world is all about the I’ll-scratch-your-back-if-you-scratch-mine attitude.

For example: Want to be on the New York Times best sellers list? You’d better be published through one of the few remaining large publishers, or their subsidiaries. The larger publishing houses have good connections that get their books onto that list quickly. The little guys don’t even get a chance at it.

“Really?” you ask.


To keep from overwhelming the bookstores that report their sales to the NY Times, the list is kept artificially short. (Very short, considering that only about 36 books are considered out of some 250,000 titles published in the US last year.) It is rare to see a new release from a small publisher there, and they won’t even consider self-published books.

So while you are reading the New York Times best sellers list in your local paper, it is important to know you are being shortchanged. You may never learn about the best books, because they’re not listed there.



Where’s the Real Entertainment?

June 15, 2010

The current myth is that entertainment is all about Hollywood. As proof, take a look at the main portals for “news”: msn, cnn, yahoo, etc. Isn’t it strange that real news is intermixed with blather about who some actor is sleeping with, who is gay, getting married, pregnant, or divorced? Are we really obsessed with what a particular Hollywood actress is going to name her illegitimate child? Do we really care if the dad’s name is Chad, or Brad, or Galahad? According to today’s press, we seem to…a lot!

It must be a sign of my age to remember when actors got press time when they won an award for their talent, not when they cheated on their mate(s), or checked themselves into yet another rehab center. I know it was a myth even then, but we used to think of those kinds of people as ignorant, poor white trash who lived in run-down trailer parks. Now they command seven and eight-figure salaries and people scramble to get even a glimpse at them. Even more disturbing: these are the people our children look up to.

It’s no wonder I enjoy slipping into the imaginary world of books. Writing is my balm for the sores of the “real” world. It is better entertainment because I participate in it. I feel the same for reading books…well written ones anyway. They draw me into their imaginary world, making me participate, get involved with the characters, and feel like I’ve lost a good friend when they end.

A good book is the best kind of entertainment. I may be completely out of touch, but I’m content to leave the Hollywood soap operas in California, and dive into an adventure I can sink my teeth into…or will sink its teeth into me.

Tell me I’m not alone.

Clifford M. Scovell
Prison Earth – Not Guilty as Charged.