Archives for category: Writing about the Future

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In the February 2020 Writing Tip on Patreon, I discussed the importance of the three-act structure for your screenplay, novel, or story as a means for maintaining narrative momentum and viewer/reader interest.
In the January 2020 Movie Review on Patreon, I gave a detailed analysis of the film Captain Marvel, which earned worldwide box office of over a billion dollars and made the screenwriter the hottest property in Hollywood. I watched the film twice, the second time with a stop watch and a notepad and pencil. The writer hit all the right marks.
And so should you. After you’ve finished a complete first draft (or second draft or tenth) and you’re still struggling to make the story move, consider analyzing the story with a three-act structure in mind.
In this post, I’m going to analyze my novel, Summer of Love, which remains my bestselling book (both in ebook format and as a trade paperback) after I first published it in the 1990s with Bantam Books (a division of Random House). The book was a Finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award and a San Francisco Chronicle Recommended Book of the Year.
Note
: For the Bast Books edition, I edited out some 20,000 words of youthful excess and the book is still 100,000+ words.
Some fans, the kind of reader who rereads the book every year (seriously) didn’t like the edits and complained about the deletions (which this kind of fan notices).
Some fans appreciated and loved the edits and sent me emails saying “Thank you for doing this.”
You can’t please everyone, as the Ricky Nelson song goes, so you as a writer must do what you know is right. Editing out the excess verbiage made the three-act structure become clear to me and also clarified the relationships between the three main characters. Editing was definitely the right thing to do, and the book is much better.
Now then.
Summer of Love has its own internal complex structure. I found seven key days over the historical summer of 1967 during which some notable celebration occurred.  Within those seven days, three point-of-view characters tell their personal stories and perspectives on the events.
So there are twenty-one chapters. The trade paperback is 404 pages long.
Susan Bell (a.k.a. Starbright) is a fourteen-year-old runaway to San Francisco, to the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood where the Summer of Love took place.
Chiron Cat’s in Draco is a twenty-one-year-old time traveler from five hundred years in the future who has journeyed to 1967 on a vital mission to save the Universe.
And Ruby A. Maverick is a thirty-year-old, half-black half-white shop owner, a successful “hip proprietor,” who is a long-time resident of the neighborhood and the moral center of the story.
Act One is the setup of your main characters—where they start out in the story, a physical description of them, their motivations and goals, the initial obstacles set out for them, their initial physical actions.
Also, you should set up the location where the action takes place—but don’t get too hung up on this, you’ll have plenty of room to develop further location details as you go along. Also don’t get too hung up on physical descriptions of the characters—this too can be further developed.
In Act One, that’s a lot of material and complications to cover. Because an effective Act One should only be about 25 or 30 percent of the total length of the project. Act One should end with the plot spinning off in a new surprising different direction for your characters.
In Summer of Love, Act One is comprised of the first five chapters, ending at page 121, 29% exactly of the total length. (I’ll attempt to put as few plot spoilers in this analysis as possible!)
In Chapters One and Four, Susan arrives in San Francisco at dawn. She’s seeking her former estranged best friend, Nance, who ran away to the Haight-Ashbury a month earlier and sent her a postcard. Susan knows no one, has a limited amount of money. She meets a rock-n-roll band she idolizes and is seduced by their manager. She goes to live in the band’s communal house, works for free for them, and is sucked into the Haight-Ashbury life. She briefly meets Ruby, with whom she has a contentious meeting.
In Chapters Two and Five—(Note the book is internally structured on a round-robin between the three characters) Chiron also arrives in San Francisco via a time machine from the far future. He sets out on his vital mission, why he’s been sent here, and compares and contrasts 1967 with his own future time. Using a guideline, he seeks and finds Ruby at her shop, and is taken in by her. He works for a wage at the shop, lives in a room in her quarters above the shop, and sets about the investigative work he needs to do to accomplish his mission.
In Chapter Three, Ruby gives her personal view of the 1960s, her former relationship with the band’s manager, the idealism of the counterculture and also the corruption already beginning. She is suspicious of Chi and perhaps starting a new relationship with Leo Gorgon, a radical anarchist.
Chapter Six begins with a brief POV by Susan as she is betrayed by the band’s manager and wants to leave the band’s communal house, then switches to Ruby’s POV, as she encounters Susan again.
The plot spins in a new direction when the contentious meeting between Ruby and Susan becomes sympathetic. Ruby insists that Susan come to stay with her and Susan first meets Chiron, who wonders if she is the breakthrough he’s searching for to accomplish his mission.
Act Two, Chapters 6 through 16, involves mounting complications and difficulties for all the characters, and complications between them too, over that fateful summer. Also the community’s historical escalating violence and corruption. (No plot spoilers!)
Act Two ends when, again, you spin the plot and the characters off in a surprising new direction, which begins Act Three.
Act Three should only comprise 20% or 25% of the total project, during which you must accelerate the action and the fulfillment of the characters’ goals until you reach the denouement and conclusion.
Note:  I read a Booker Prize winning very long novel that dragged out Act Three so much, I no longer cared what happened to the characters at the end and skimmed through too many tedious pages to get to the freakin’ end, already. Don’t be that author.
To read my final analysis of Act Three of Summer of Love and to discover the very important Midpoint, please go to my Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/bePatron?u=23011206
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Back in the days when people wrote on typewriters, the adage went, “Writing is easy. You stare at a blank sheet of paper till blood pops out of your forehead.”

Now it isn’t a blank sheet of paper, it’s a shining screen, photons of white light beaming your brain.

The fluidity and immediacy of the shining screen seem to demand that perfection appear—right now. There’s nothing like expecting perfection to stop you in your tracks.

I’m a huge fan of scribbling. The award-winning, bestselling author Jennifer Egan has said she writes entire books by hand before she turns on the computer. I don’t necessarily advocate that, but sketching out your scene/outline/story, allowing your thoughts to flow freely without the pressure of perfection, goes a long way toward helping you make words appear on the shining screen.

I’m a huge fan of Blackfeet Indian pencils and Moleskines. Henri Matisse and Ernest Hemingway wrote they never went anywhere without a Moleskine. A Moleskin is a five-and-a-half inch by three-and-a-half inch slim notebook of unlined paper. The cover is so thin and flexible, you can open it flat and not worry about ring binders (always a problem for left-handers like me).

With a Blackfeet pencil and a Moleskine, you don’t need batteries, electrical outlets, or a carrying case. No one will knock you down and seize your Moleskin the way they may if you’re lugging a two-thousand-dollar laptop. You can scribble in your Moleskine in a bright café, a sunlit meadow, or a dark bar. And if someone—friend or stranger—wants to know what you’re working on, you simply close the Moleskine, slip it in your jacket pocket, smile enigmatically, and say, “None of your damn business.”

Writing is a process though often it doesn’t feel that way when you’re struck with an inspiration, with a holistic vision of your book, and you’re aching to see it done—right now. I’ve said writing is a road trip, a mountain climb. Dare I also say writing is like birthing a baby? No person on the planet goes from conception to full-blown adult instantly. Many people haven’t achieved full adulthood after thirty years. (Joking.) Like life, a story, let alone a book, takes time and commitment.

So there you have it, my friends. If you can bang out a first draft on a computer from scratch, more power to you. By all means, go for it. All this technology is incredible for inputting, revising, editing, and polishing. I don’t know how people ever wrote and published entire books before computers, but obviously they did, sometimes writing masterpieces. But if you’re stuck on the shining screen, turn off the computer and reach for a pencil and paper.

New! Strange Ladies: 7 Stories is on Nook, US Kindle, Canada Kindle, UK Kindle, and Smashwords (all other readers). Short fantasy and science fiction by Lisa Mason published in magazines and anthologies worldwide.

From the author of Celestial Girl, The Omnibus Edition (A Lily Modjeska Mystery) on Nook, , US Kindle, UK Kindle, and Smashwords, The Garden of Abracadabra, Volume 1 of the Abracadabra Series, on Nook, Kindle, Smashwords, and UK Kindle, Summer of Love, A Time Travel (a Philip K. Dick Award Finalist and San Francisco Chronicle Recommended Book) on Nook, Kindle, Smashwords, and UK Kindle, and The Gilded Age, A Time Travel (a New York Times Notable Book and New York Public Library Recommended Book) on Nook, Kindle, Smashwords, and UK Kindle.

Visit me at Lisa Mason’s Official Website for books, ebooks, stories, and screenplays, forthcoming projects and more, on my Facebook Author Page, on Amazon, on my Facebook Profile Page, on Goodreads, on LinkedIn, on Twitter at @lisaSmason, at Smashwords, and at Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

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From H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine (1895) to Jack Finney’s Time and Again (1970) to Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series (begun in 1991) to Connie Willis’s multiple award-winning The Domesday Book (1992) to Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife (2004), the concept of time travel has offered authors a rich and complex source of inspiration and provided readers with a century’s worth of reading pleasure.

When I set out to write Summer of Love, A Time Travel, I wanted to present the concept as a technology that could actually happen. A lot of authors sort of weasel on that—their protagonist “thinks” his way to another era, or “slipstreams” her way there, or he’s got a “syndrome,” or she walks through an ancient, magically charged location. I have always been partial to Wells’s actual machine, probably because of that cool sleigh-like contraption in the 1960 movie.

So I researched how, specifically, my hero could make his journey over the centuries with the help of three books: Time Travel by John W. Macvey, Time Machines (Time Travel in Physics, Metaphysics, and Science Fiction) by Paul J. Nahin, and Time Travel and Other Mathematical Bewilderments by Martin Gardner. After some thought, I decided you would require two technologies working in concert—the first would translate matter (including a human being) into pure energy for an instant and the second would take transmit that bundle of energy through the timeline to a targeted destination via faster than light technology. Hence, “translation-tranmission” is how Chiron travels from 2467 to 1967. Piece of cake! Tomorrow, the Perils of Time Travel. Summer of Love, A Time Travel on Nook and Kindle.

Writing an historical novel was not my entire concept for Summer of Love, A Time Travel. I wanted to juxtapose a far future dystopia that could have followed that era as a commentary about the Sixties and our present. What was most striking to me when researching the period was the virulent sexist attitudes toward women. But it can be difficult to dramatize that without another point of view providing an analytical lens to give the drama context. And that’s what my far future time traveler does. Other issues on which Chiron provides perspective are recycling and the consumption of resources, overpopulation and how the world could respond to that, even suntanning.

But writing about the future can be tricky, exposing the writer’s hidden attitudes or assuming that certain aspects of reality will stay the same. Witness the mini-skirted stewardess (as flight attendants were called then) working for Pan Am in the film “2001.” Not long after that movie was made in 1968, Pan Am went bankrupt and disappeared! Or Isaac Asimov speculating that astronauts on an interplanetary journey could raise rabbits for meat when we know very well that people can survive, and even thrive, on a vegan diet. The real question is how astronauts could grow rice on board! As for me, I speculated that a woman would be elected President of the United States, but not for another hundred years or more. One of my critics accused me of being sexist. No, I’m pessimistic! It’s 2012 and we don’t have a viable female presidential candidate from either party, do we. Tomorrow, the pleasures and perils of time travel. Summer of Love, A Time Travel on Nook and Kindle.