H.G. Wells’ Fighting Machines — After the Martians

My upcoming story, “After the Martians”—to be released this month—features the fighting machines, or tripods, of H.G. Wells’ book The War of the Worlds. In that book, the Martians assembled the machines after their arrival on Earth, and they caused considerable destruction. At the end of the novel, the Martians all died from our terrestrial bacteria.

AftertheMartians72d“After the Martians” takes place in the world of Wells’ story, but sixteen years have passed since the alien attack. In my tale, humans make use of the Martian technology, especially the fighting machines, to fight World War I.

Wells depicted a fighting machine as being three-legged and about one hundred feet tall. He did not describe the carapace or main body of the machine, except to say that several flexible tentacles protruded from it. Two of these tentacles held a box with a lens from which shot the devastating heat ray. The tripod’s other weapon was a poisonous black gas.

Such a machine would have terrified the readers of 1897. Since then, the tripod from The War of the Worlds has become a science fiction icon, inspiring the walking weapons of Star Wars, the AT-AT and AT-ST.  Combining huge size with the human attribute of walking somehow adds to the horror.

In The War of the Worlds, we see the fighting machines from the inferior vantage point of puny human victims on the ground. In “After the Martians,” I take readers inside the carapace as human pilots control the alien machines to battle other tripods.

I enlisted the aid of a close acquaintance to make a wonderful 3D printed version of the fighting machine. (Frequent readers will recall my 3D printed Ring of Gyges from my story “Ripper’s Ring.”) For the tripod, she used a Printrbot brand printer, the Simple (Maker) Edition, and PLA filament.

3D printed tripod 13D printed tripod 23D printed tripod 3

The .stl files you need to print the fighting machine yourself are on the Thingiverse site, and the design is by FuzzySadist (William Myers). I added the wire tentacles, and painted the machine to be generally consistent with my story’s description.

Very soon, I’ll give you details on how you can get your own copy of “After the Martians,” by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Character Relationship Maps

Try as you might, some of you can’t help but read my blog. Perhaps it’s like a horrible highway accident; you just can’t avert your eyes. You regular readers know, then, that my mind favors images, graphs, and pictorial displays, and that’s what I’ve got going on today.

It isn’t that I disdain text; I am a writer, after all. It’s just that a picture is worth a thousand words, so when I need information in a condensed form, it’s hard to beat a graphical chart.

When a writer sets out to craft a story, it can be difficult to keep all the characters in mind. One technique for doing so is to use a Character Relationship Map (CRM). Like a mind map and Root Cause Analysis motivation chart, this map is something for your use alone. No reader will see it, so you can make up your own format.

Star Wars Character Relationship MapThe one I’m showing here, for the first Star Wars movie, A New Hope (Episode IV), is for illustrative purposes only and is not complete or necessarily accurate. My only intent is to show one possible example for a case familiar to most readers. To see many other sample Character Relationship Maps, do an Internet search for that term and click on images.

The CRM depicts, on a single page, all the relationships between all your story’s characters, or at least the major ones. Having this map before you as you write the story will help you keep these relationships in mind. Note that your story must contain written evidence of each relationship. If not, the reader will not know the relationship exists.

Another advantage of a Character Relationship Map is to ensure you create and understand the relationships yourself. Each major character should have some arrows going out and some going in. Each major character should have arrows connecting to all other major characters.

You might think a CRM would be useful only for novels, or other stories with plenty of characters. However, such maps can be helpful even for short stories with as few as two characters. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, you could connect two characters with four relationships using four lines. Use one line to depict how Character A feels about Character B internally, another line to show how A behaves toward B externally, and two more lines to represent the internal feelings and external behavior of B toward A.

Relationships can be complex. A good author shows some amount of friction, or at least tension, between even the friendliest or most loving characters. Why? Conflict is central to fiction. No two characters are alike, so they will think differently and there will be some level of uncertainty, some speck of doubt or occasional distaste even between the closest and most devoted characters.

To make your CRM more beneficial to you, consider using colors and line thicknesses or shapes to represent other aspects of characters and relationships. For example, you could use box colors to represent character gender, where they stand on the good-evil spectrum, or some other attribute. You could use line thickness to indicate the intensity of the relationship. You could use line shape to indicate the type of relationship, perhaps curved lines for friendship and jagged lines for enmity.

Characters, and their relationships, change through the story. You could show that by means of two maps, one showing the before state, and the other the after state. Or you could find some method of picturing the change on a single map.

Have you used a Character Relationship Map? If so, did you find it helpful? Leave a comment for a rather colorful character known as—

Poseidon’s Scribe

January 10, 2016Permalink

When Your Protagonist Meets You

It saddens me to report that author Ann (A.C.) Crispin died a few days ago, on September 6.  Before I discuss my connection with her, I should give you a brief bio.

ac-crispinA.C. Crispin was a science fiction writer who established herself with “tie-in” novels delving into the characters of established universes of Star Trek, Star Wars, the V miniseries, and others.  She also created her own Starbridge series of novels.

Angered at how some agents, editors, and publishers cheat beginning writers, Crispin co-founded a group called Writer Beware in 1998 to both warn writers and to help law enforcement agencies prosecute scam artists.

I don’t know exactly when, perhaps ten or fifteen years ago, I enrolled in a creative writing course at my local community college.  A.C. Crispin taught it.  I recall her being a tough teacher, direct and honest with those whom she thought should consider non-writing pursuits.  She usually said encouraging things to me about the homework I submitted, though.

A.C. Cripsin’s lectures contained references to the great works of literature, and she’d look around the class for flashes of recognition.  When she didn’t see any, she admonished us to read the classics if we wanted to write well.

She asked us all a question on the first day of class that has stuck with me.  None of us answered it correctly, and she’s written about the question in her essay, “The Key to Making Your Characters Believable.”

If the protagonist of any of your stories saw you walking along the street, and recognized you as the writer, what would he or she do upon meeting you?  The answer, if you’ve done your job properly, is  the protagonist would punch you in the nose.  After all, your story drags that protagonist through bad and progressively worse situations.  You’ve challenged that protagonist with tests of character that force him or her to confront deep, inner beliefs or fears.  Perhaps in addition, you’ve pitted the world against your protagonist, multiplying the external problems that character must face.  No wonder that protagonist is furious with you!

While you cowered from the rain of your creation’s blows, your nose bleeding, you’d be blubbering that you had to do it, you were forced put the protagonist through Hell for the readers’ benefit, to make a compelling story.  That would probably sound pretty hollow to your character, I suspect.

Luckily, your fictional creations won’t be meeting you on the street or in any dark alleys.  You are free to force them to crawl through mud and gore, to confront giant monsters, to face their deepest terrors, to suffer the despair of lost love.  All with complete impunity.  Go ahead; they can’t strike back, and your readers expect you to write stories like that.  That was A.C. Crispin’s message to the class.

Goodbye, Ann Crispin, and thank you.  Not only did you touch readers with your novels, you protected budding authors through your Writer Beware group, and inspired many beginning scribblers, like—                                            

                                             Poseidon’s Scribe

September 15, 2013Permalink

Don’t Touch that Dialect!

As you write your fiction, should you have your characters speaking in dialect? By this I mean the purposeful misspelling of words in a phonetic manner to indicate how your character is speaking them.

The study of dialect is fascinating and, as a fiction writer, you should be familiar with the dialect used by your characters. But the question is whether to indicate some or all of the character’s word pronunciations to the reader phonetically.

One good reason for doing so is to show authenticity. Writing in dialect gives readers a great feel for the character, since you’re depicting the speech as it would really be. Also, the use of dialect allows you to distinguish characters from each other. If each character has a distinctive way of pronouncing words, that’s a help to the reader in telling them apart.

There are significant dangers in using dialect in your writing, though. First, it can slow down the reading process. Readers get annoyed having to stumble over your strangely-spelled words. Worse, they can get confused if you do a clumsy job of it and they have to stop and puzzle out what a character is supposed to be saying.

Worse still, you can offend a reader. These days, offended readers might not merely chuck your book, they can post scathing reviews which can really cut down on sales.

There are degrees of offense, of course. And attitudes change with time.  Just after Mark Twain wrote Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, readers were more put off by its crude and mildly obscene language. Now the main criticisms involve its depiction of the black slave character, Jim. In fact, it’s hard to even read the book these days because it comes off as racist by today’s standards. It helps, just a little, to realize that Jim is, in fact, a noble character. And ennobling, in the sense that he forces Huck to struggle with the values of the society he lives in.

Jar Jar BinksHowever, a worse example of offending an audience with dialect is Jar Jar Binks in some of the Star Wars movies.  Since Jar Jar is an alien, (a Gungan), writer and director George Lucas could have gotten creative and invented a new and distinctive dialect. Instead he chose to give this character a dialect nearly identical to that of Jamaican English. To aggravate the offense, he made Jar Jar a comic relief character, bumbling and rather stupid.

Getting back to the question of whether to use dialect in your writing, I suggest you use it sparingly, while being sensitive to the problems of confusing or offending your readership. There are other ways to convey the distinctiveness of a character other than dialect. These include word choice, grammar, idioms, slang, gestures and other actions, and clothing choice. I think writer Jennifer Jensen has some great advice on dialect here.

The story in which I used dialect to the greatest degree is “The Six Hundred Dollar Man.”  Only you readers can decide if the cowboy dialect of 1870 Wyoming was rendered well in that story by—

                                                           Poseidon’s Scribe