Monday, September 16, 2013

Formatting to Build Up Suspense

Clouds just before the rain that is much appreciated,
photo by R de Heer

As I just said on Google+ the news of the day is that it is raining here, after 46 days without a comprehensive drop. IE only 4.5 mm exactly 1 month ago.

True, it is winter.

True, winter is our dry time.

But still, we were in a wet year. By 28th July 2013 we had had 2 metres of rain.

Then ... nothing.

The trouble with that scenario and the increasing carbon dioxide in the air due to global warming, to use its honest definition, when CO2 acts as a fertiliser - is that trees grow lots of fuel. Central Australia is much greener now, we know courtesy of one or another satellite.

The Dry after a big Wet there are always very hot and destructive bush fires.

Much of the Australian bush has evolved to handle regular burns. But even the Australian bush is killed by a cyclonic fire. Not to mention all the animals that die.


Above is the strategy of formatting to increase suspense. Formatting directs the speed of reading by taking advantage of the physical movement of our eyes as we skim along the lines of text.

Flicking from the end of a short sentence down to the beginning of the next one is a more natural move than reading short sentences one after the other along the same line, and is related to what is termed 'saccadic eye movement'.

(I was going to link to a pithy explanation on Youtube or Wikipedia but can't find anything in plain English.)

You can study saccadic eye movement in yourself by staring at a nearby blank surface. Your brain likes patterns and will give you something to stare at.

Mine gives me a black spot. Which then floats along a path until my eyes get tired of not moving. I blink and it all starts again with my little black spot floating along a new path. Often along a lower path.

This action is what the three short sentences pounding away at the main theme in separate paragraphs links into. Finishing with an equally short exclamatory statement.

In this case followed by a rather long sentence (35 words! An absolute no-no in fiction writing) expanding on the theme and repeating the strategy, but with similarly longer sentences (averaging 12 words) The longer sentences this time for variety and because the crisis is over. The fires are a fact.

Formatting helps direct the speed of reading and the building up of suspense.

Simple but effective.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Writing Science Fiction: Strategies Two and Three

Unknown Spaceship
by R de Heer
This 'thing'reminds me a lot of an organically designed grown spaceship. That blurry, slightly out of focus front viewing bubble.

I can't remember which movie I saw it in. One of the Star Wars franchise with an underwater scene perhaps. 

The background is suitably wild and weird. If you can't pretend it is lying in water - it being impossibly clear -  think of the ship as resting on a ledge on a cliff. 

The metallic carapace is mostly out of the picture and we have to imagine its shape. Long and sleek? Or bulging with more of the observation extrusions?  

The crew I found in a different scenario. Cold. Dank. A long narrow cave. That didn't hold them back. 

They explored outside, suitably suited up. They got lost. Stuck. They starved. And died. Their bones ...

Remains of Unknown Spacefarer
by R de Heer
 The shape of the bones suggest various physiologies. Alien of course. Well, alien in relation to humans. 

The two largest bones have almost spherical ends. The being was two-legged? 

The spherical bone-ends suggests a couple of very agile joints. The being could jump like a frog? 

Several tractor-like scavengers are trawling over the disjointed skeleton. I wonder if she was eaten alive?

In the dark she wouldn't have known which way to jump. The underground passage wasn't very wide. When you start wondering if the rest of the crew is still waiting in the ship you have the beginning of a story. 

Strategy Two is to take an image and re imagine it. My first shot is a fungus believe it or not, found sometimes in the allo casuarina forests adjacent to mangrove swamps, growing in stumps near the ground.

Strategy Three is to slap together two unrelated ideas, or images in this case, and force a joining. The bones in the second photo are I believe of a frog, probably a Green Tree Frog which like to overwinter in drainpipes. When a long mat of tree roots was pulled from the storm-water drain, there were the bones.