Another Bit of Steampunk

Continued from The New Machine

The hat felt heavy on my head, like it weighed me down with memories of Wiillem. A new ribbon woven through a pearl button from the machine replaced the broken glass that had decorated the hat when Willem wore it. He dominated my thoughts while I surveyed the clacking and whirring machines in his lab.

I still waited for him to return. I knew he must have been waylaid somewhen. How long had I perched on the steps, motionless, until that first machine faltered? The levers stuck when I examined the workings, and a little oil had it humming smoothly.

Willem’s journal sat on the middle of the counter, open to the page on his time machine. I flipped back through the pages to study his notes on the other inventions.

The journal only contained his inventions and iterations; none of his plans for travel were in any way were included. His log detailed the raw materials and the finished ones, as well as basic maintenance. The drawings sparked ideas in my head, and soon I drew my own notations around his. By the end of the week, I had begun modifying levers and changing gears and generally finding the proper rhythm for efficiency.

I wore the hat always; it gave me purpose and motivation. Everything else remained mine, the fitted corset and jacket with lace collar and sleeves and striped skirts and heavy, gathered bustle. I would continue where Willem left off, so I packed my basket and headed to the faire.

The contents of the basket unpacked covered the vendor space.

A tiny girl, probably small for her age with a streak of mud across her dress, waved a rag. “Shoe shine? Two coppers.”

I considered, then nodded. I might not have money to spare, but she needed it more than I did.

The girl set to work. Customers passed; some looked and some inquired and some purchased an item or two, but no one struck up a conversation.

A knot of people clustered just within earshot, or perhaps they didn’t realize I could still hear them. “What is it about that hat? It’s unnatural.” I needed the connection with him. It was all I had. “She rises above her station. She only sets herself up to fall.” I could see truth to that, but I had no other options. “The prices are expected, but buying from a woman?” I held my face still as stone. I couldn’t change being a woman. “Of course the beggar girl aligns with the female vendor. Like calls to like.” They wanted a reaction. I must not give them one. How could they think I would not hear them?

Passersby had taken the child as a beggar rather than a shoe shine girl. Five copper coins on the ground attested to this idea, yet the girl hadn’t picked them up.

Of course a woman at a stall must only sell her lace or her garden’s fruits. My lace was better suited to cat toys and my garden produced little more than I needed to eat.

The girl finished shining my shoes and collected her coppers. She stared at the coins with the no-nonsense disdain only children can manage.

“And what is it you want, child?” We both knew it wasn’t so easy to ask and have it handed to you.

The girl’s chin set, and like the tiny thing might cry, but then she said, “No family. No ties. Hard work, aye, and earn my way.”

Her words circled in my head. Did she mean to apprentice to me? Willem was master of the lab, and I a pretender. That did not explain all my manipulations of the wonders he created. He must forgive me, but he disappeared. “I may have need of an apprentice.” The pearl button machine, so noisy and hiccuping, would be the first complete redesign. “How old are you?”    

“I’ll be nine,” the girl lied, I knew it without understanding how. But the apprentice age was ten, so she wasn’t lying as much as she might.

“Well, if you’ve nowhere to go, you should come see my shop and my flat when the faire ends. What’s your name, child?” I offered my hand to her. In my head, I amended that to Willem’s shop, but it felt like mine.  

The girl picked up the coppers on the ground and deposited all of them into my hand instead of shaking it. “Maggie.”

We ignored the continuing whispers of onlookers. I packed up the leftover goods in the basket, and Maggie trailed along behind me. How would I care for the girl as well as myself? I knew where the rest of my garden’s fruits would go.

Epilogue

Below is information about epilogues with references. I took this to my writer’s group as part of the “program” we have within our meetings. It’s really fun to research these things, bring a topic to the group (or listen to someone else’s perspective) and discuss. It’s one of the things I really like about our group.

One thing you’ll note from the examples is the (maybe) after the Harry Potter epilogue. We can take so many examples from Harry Potter, if only because we’ve all read it. The only one of the below books I had not read was Bel Canto, though someone else had. That helped. The reason I changed it from a Not Working epilogue as the site stated to a Maybe was because it did work for me. And the epilogue worked for others in different ways which we could tie to either love conquering all or a good versus evil theme or to forgiveness between Harry and Snape.

If only every discussion could be so lively!

Function of Epilogue

  • To satisfy the readers’ curiosity by telling them about the fate of the characters after the climax
  • To cover loose ends of the story
  • To hint at a sequel or next installment of the story

How-to for an epilogue:

  1. Decide point of view and keep consistent with novel
  2. Decide where to pick up the story – next day, a few months on, decades later. Can focus on one character or a number of them.
  3. Plot out scenario- not every story needs more closure.
  4. Avoid “happily ever after” trap if it detracts from main conflict of the story.
  5. Consider different structure for epilogue like a speech or poem.
  6. Epilogue may hint at unresolved conflict or new twist for characters in future story.
  7. Keep it brief.
  8. Format as separate section.

Examples: (Does it work or not?)

Handmaid’s Tale (Atwood) – Epilogue shows a historical conference dissecting the novel’s account of events rather than showing the character’s fate. (yes)

Animal Farm (Orwell) – Epilogue shows pigs and man have evolved to not be distinguished from one another. (yes)

Bel Canto (Patchett) – After a hostage situation that goes on for months, the epilogue addresses two characters who got married after the incident and several years in the future. (no)

Harry Potter (Rowling) – 4100 pages of good versus evil or is it a story of love? Epilogue shows main character 19 years later with his own children (and those of his friends) going off to Hogwarts. (maybe)

References:

http://www.scasd.org/cms/lib5/PA01000006/Centricity/Domain/1562/How%20to%20Write%20an%20Epilogue.pdf

https://www.standoutbooks.com/writing-an-epilogue/

http://www.writersdigest.com/tip-of-the-day/six-reasons-for-using-an-epilogue

http://literarydevices.net/epilogue/

http://writerunboxed.com/2012/10/30/after-the-end-the-epilogue/

Fireflies

A friend mentioned the 10 most dangerous cities in Iowa, and I’ve lived or worked in half of them. Iowa gets a bad rap sometimes, but there are good things here, too.

One of them is fireflies. There’s a great sense of wonder in so many kids where these are concerned, tiny glowing flying creatures that only come out part of the year. Why is that so wonderful?

When I was small, I thought they were myths. Fireflies- I don’t care how many Iowa natives try to correct me that they’re Lightning Bugs- are creatures of beauty and awe. My mother had never seen one until we moved to Iowa. And my cousin and I always wrote in letters (on paper- through the postal service) about me sending fireflies to her because she never had them in Montana, either.

These myths change our perceptions of the world, and when they’re true, you find a piece of the impossible in your everyday life. We drove home after a wedding, and I smiled to watch the fireflies out the car window. I remember catching them in a jar and then letting them go.

My kids live in a world with fireflies. My worlds are filled with dragons and other impossibilities when I write, so it’s nice to have at least one in the world around us.

Though the more I think about lightning bugs, the more I think they deserve a special place in some awesome steampunk story. We’ll see how that turns out.

From Another Angle

I have taken up my book and marked it up nearly every day since I came back from the weekend class at the Summer Writing Festival. I’m not even sure what exactly changed. My class received about eight hours of lectures about sentences.

It seems crazy, but it was awesome, fun, and enlightening.

Suddenly I feel like editing is fun. And the book i picked up needs a big rewrite. The thing has been sitting long enough it feels new again. Also having fun uncovering the placeholders like “Bob the Bossman” and “ZZ” that are peppered through the narrative.

I get the feeling I’ve allowed it to simmer long enough that I know how to fix it. At least through the first iteration. But somehow that big picture of the novel in my head wants to get bigger.

Doesn’t matter as long as I’m having fun, right?

Open Mic Night

Last weekend I went to the Summer Writing Festival, and there’s always an open mic night. After two sessions of talking about sentences, I enjoyed listening to others. But the problem with knowing I’m going to be up next– I had to mess with my phone to figure out where the thing was I would read. And I hate that, I can’t focus on anything else. But after I read, I could listen better. So many funny, witty writers stood up to share!

Here’s my story, a steampunk flash fiction piece that I had to edit after the workshop.

The New Machine

The gears whirred. Every step drew me closer to the machine. Aether powered the thing, though I couldn’t fathom the purpose. My fingers hovered over the moving parts.

“What do you think, Claire?” His fingers scraped the back of my neck. “It’s for you, you know.”

The entire thing shifted. No big sound changed the product, but suddenly it dumped tiny pieces of pearl rounds, each one drilled with a distinct hole pattern. “Buttons?”

“They’re not just buttons, my dear.” He waved his hands over the displays for his other machines. “They’re for all the new machines. Pearl is the best. It’s lovely and it feels luxurious.”

Willem always focused on decadence. I knew this about him, but I couldn’t look away from the pearl circles in my hands. He took three and placed them over the levers on his other new addition to his collection of machines. “And that one?”

He tipped his top hat at me, then dropped his fingers to the new pearl buttons across the front. “My time machine.”

My stomach floated within my body. I gulped it down, along with my heart. For once I felt glad of the corset restraining both from leaping out of me. “Such a thing must be impossible.”

Willem stood within the machine. “I’ll be back for you, my dear.” The levers shifted under his hands, he turned to take a last look at me, which toppled his hat to the floor, and he disappeared.

His hat rolled to a stop near me, and I cradled it close to me with buttons still clutched in my fingers. I sat, skirts piled around me on the steps, and I waited. He would come back. He said he would. The candle dripped lower in the sconce. Willem always kept his word. The only question was when.

Impossible Goals

I’ve always been fond of the movie What About Bob? and partly because it has that great theory of baby steps. Of course Bob makes it hilarious-  Baby Stepping out the door. Baby stepping into the elevator. But the truth of that theory has worked for me. I don’t like to set big New Year’s Resolutions because it feels like too much to take on at once. I prefer the method of adding on something small to medium-sized and re-evaluating at the end of a month and the beginning of the next.

It’s how I combat procrastination – I spent how many hours playing video games this month? (Okay, that was a couple years ago- I don’t do it much now.) I’ve turned much of that time into more productive activities toward my goals.

So when someone close to me rattled off a median income for writers as “$70 000 a year,” I almost fell off my chair. And I was belted into a car. Median is supposedly the middle of all the writers out there, so while a straight average might take into account the big earners like Patterson and King and Rowling, the middle would be where the 50% percentile earner had income.

I’m skeptical. I want proof. I couldn’t get it, and I’d like to see where that kind of number comes from. There are so many writers out there, some of whom only send out one book and self-publish, some of whom have one book and traditionally publish, and some of whom keep sending out book after book. Some of these make great money, and others struggle along without much notice.

That median supposedly takes into account all writers, nonfiction and television and tech writers and fiction. If that had any truth, wouldn’t more of us be attempting to be writers?

Mostly, the part that makes me sad is when I think about that as a goal, as an answer to when I’ll be successful is when I hit the median of “writers,” it feels impossible. I don’t rise to impossible overnight. I like small goals. Like, how about, make more money this year than I pay out? And try to do that a couple years running?

Please send me a  comment with what you think it takes to be a successful writer – and what the goals are that keep you going on your path.

Yesterday I completed 720 days in a row of writing at least 750 words per day. I also received a rejection for my manuscript from an agent. Today’s task list includes rewriting. I haven’t given up on this writing dream.

I Printed the Draft But You Can’t Make Me Edit!

That might not be true. I can get myself to edit, but the rewrites make me fidget endlessly in my chair. It’s something I have to schedule and turn everything off, with the paper copy on one side and the screen where I translate the new words on the other.

I can’t get myself to edit appropriately without a paper copy, it seems. I mark up one copy, highlight in myriad places, and have separate notes in margins and a separate notebook to keep it all from escaping. It isn’t the short pieces that bog me down so much – it’s the mammoth manuscripts that would be novels.

Example: the one sitting on my right is about machines [read: robots] and weighs in for the rough draft at 135,000 words. Working title is The Machine Book, only because I have no idea what the title ought to be.

This year I’ve been doing something different. I’m scheduling time to sit down without interruptions and simply take notes on previous projects and learn how to make them shine. I know I’m the only one who can make myself get through the process of finishing the book.

I really wish a one-page-at-a-time idea worked, but the first edits are all about plot arcs and character growth. It’s about making sure each scene happens at the right time and the right place and moves the reader forward to the end.

Thank you to all the family and friends who occasionally ask me how my editing is going. You’re reminding me to keep chipping away at this until I finish, and it motivates me.

Engagement

Driving presents many challenges, and one of the newest problems is cell phones. But what happens when the problem isn’t really the phone itself, but that we don’t engage ourselves while driving?

My first vehicle was older than I was, with manual steering, brakes, and transmission. I had a portable radio stashed on the front seat, and it was always stuck on a local station because I couldn’t get anything else. I didn’t mind, and with all the things I had to do to drive that thing (on gravel most of the way) kept me busy.

If boredom is one of the problems, I can’t give good arguments against it. I’ve had my current car a year. It’s automatic everything, the first automatic transmission I’ve ever had. I don’t know what to do with my left foot or my right hand, and there are buttons everywhere to push and adjust things. There’s nothing to do when everything goes smoothly.

The problem with driving is not everything goes smoothly. At least, not all the time. And we’re not prepared for those moments when they arrive.

Enough for the driving, right? What about the books? Are we engaging our readers? Especially in online formats, writers are encouraged to write clearly, directly, and use short words and sentences. Many fiction novels are written on an eighth grade level, if that.

If we’re not engaging the readers, is that why we’re so worried about losing them? Because they can now be pulled away by movies or video games or any other shiny idea to promise escape.

What if we gave the readers something more to concentrate on?  Some books have sentences of one hundred words or more. Some books have layers of meaning that you don’t always puzzle through the first time. I’m sure not every book needs to be absorbing all the attention of the reader, but I wonder how many popular genre novels are brave enough to tackle these things. When was the last time you looked up a word you didn’t know from a story? Re-read a deeply layered story to enjoy the nuances? Have we allowed ourselves to lose the ability to engage completely in one task at a time?

Write What You Know?

Right. The answer to that is always research.

But there are so many things that even research can’t manage. How do we ever know what it is to ride a dragon or to travel through space on a generation ship?

It’s something about writing what I love. I love the impossible, the improbable, and the things I may never see in my lifetime. Those are the things I want to write. Those are the stories I see in my head and pester me until I put them down.

A man in my book club asked why writers write post-apocalyptic stories. The best answer from the other writer in the room gave was the idea that humans adapt and overcome the end.

I’m surprised he didn’t ask about dystopias, because I’ve been reading a ton of those lately. Those are also stories where people rise above their circumstances. It’s where the imagination takes us, and each story shows something that might happen – whether the society as we know it becomes problematic like a dystopia or collapses and needs to be rebuilt like a post-apocalyptic.

Sometimes I start to wonder about these not-real, not-true things, how we can be experts and write what we know about them. And yet, if we spend enough time in our imaginations, how can we not know them?

Dragons have been my favorite animal for nearly as long as I can remember. I don’t write them often, but I love to read a good dragon story. When my mother was tasked in her poetry class with creating a poem from a dragon’s POV, she called me. I’m thrilled to be the dragon expert in the family, and it didn’t take long until the dragons poured out in a story.

My next journey is among the stars. Sometimes my evil inner editor tells me we don’t see those stories lately, so they’re out of vogue. And yet- it’s what I love, so I must follow.

Does an Outline Prevent Discovery?

Plotters and pantsers make up the ends of the spectrum of writers about outlining. Some hate the word, while others live by the outline map. I happen to be someone who outlines. It wasn’t always this way, but I have come to find a way to outline that keeps me focused on the story ahead.

The biggest complaint I hear from pantsers (the ones who write by the seat of their pants) is that if they outline, they’ve already written the book. What’s the point?

Maybe we have too much thrown into the category of outline. I remember them from school with the Roman Numerals and the Arabic numbers underneath. Someone must still use that kind of outline, but not most of the writers I know.

What happens to me without an outline is that I wander far from the beaten path of the story. When I have my draft, I spend more time figuring out the threads and the pieces that don’t fit than anything else. Like, why did my protagonist wander off with her dragon here? That doesn’t fit the story! Did I really need to discover that for twenty pages? (Yes, I’m exaggerating here.)

But the key to a great outline is to allow enough to keep in mind the end while not tying hands too much to get through the story. And it isn’t like an outline is set in stone. If your characters mutiny against it, the writer had better understand what happened – and act accordingly. The choice is to change the characters so they’d choose to run through the outline, or change the outline so the characters want to travel that direction.

How much of an outline is enough? It’s what keeps the writer on track with the story. If it’s enough to have that vague image of an ending in your head through the writing – go for it. An outline can be as minimal as fifteen words or as detailed as a snowflake. It’s simply a tool to work for the writing.

So does any kind of information go against the discovery of the novel? Is it forbidden by the pantser to make character sketches or physical sketches of settings or to write out the history of the world before the story begins? Maybe because I write science fiction I struggle with this. I might have years to cover with changes to the characters, society, and technology to get to the point where I want to begin the story.

I might be able to do that off the cuff, but I might get left with questions like I did from reading books like Divergent: How do you get the factionless to work in factories or drive trains or do anything when they’re homeless and don’t have food? What did Voldemort do in the thirty or so years from when he left Hogwarts to when Harry’s curse zapped him away? Thirty years feels like a long time to be gathering the supporters, if only to try to take down the Ministry of Magic the moment Voldemort gets his body back. If he gathered power to terrorize people for thirty years, wouldn’t he be a little more patient? (And I know the Harry Potter novels were outlined.)

But then again, perhaps I just overthink these things. Maybe you have your own examples of those books that have those little questions that keep you awake at night. It isn’t really possible to answer every single question about a world, but the writer ought to know. Some of that is always discovered for me while writing, no matter how tight my outline becomes.

Some resources for outlines:

Minimalist- 15 to 20 words by Les Edgerton 

Seven Point Story Structure
Choosing an Outline Style by Writer’s Digest
Brainstorming
Rowling’s Method (There has to be a name for this somewhere, but I haven’t come across it)
Snowflake 
If you have a way to outline other than these, please share!

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