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Welcome to my blog. Every month I publish insight into my writing and editing experiences as an independent author.

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Divided Elements - Award-winning speculative fiction

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Enjoy!

 

What readers are saying about Resistance (Divided Elements #1):

“A book that would appeal to fans of dystopia (Think 1984, George Orwell) Resistance is an utterly thought-provoking and subversive book in this genre – Highly entertaining, poignant and brutal by shades, Divided Elements is an original novel, pushing the boundaries of this genre – and Mikhaeyla is surely a writer to watch out for.” Sachin Dev, author of ‘The Fate of the Nines’

“Resistance is a harsh, gut-wrenching story about Anaiya, a top-caste Fire Elemental who has been chosen to infiltrate a resistance cell of lower-level insurgents who have been spreading anti-establishment messages throughout the city; a trend that could topple the fragile balance…Kopievsky has done an incredible job of establishing both a setting and society that is unique, while at the same time portending of a future that could all too easily become our own reality.” Jamie Marriage, reviewer at Marianne DePierres

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Is your plot skeleton showing?

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

I started writing short stories eighteen months ago. Seduced by the competitions and submission opportunities, I thought it would be easy money and acclaim – spend a week (or a weekend) writing 500-3,000 words, hit send, and wait for the shortlist nominations to roll in.

Ha.

Needless to say, the reality does not match the fiction. When my initial efforts failed to fire, I got frustrated. But I was still seduced by the bright lights, so I kept writing and submitting. And then something strange happened – I fell in love with the short story form. And I committed myself to teaching myself on how to write a great one.

And that’s when I started reading short stories. I know, I know – how did I think I could write a short story when I wasn’t reading them? Like I said, I was naive – I thought I could just apply my novel writing sensibilities. It was still writing. It was just with less words.

Ha.

I’ve been trying to uncover and distil the magic behind great short stories for a year now. And it was only last night – while I was sitting in a French bistrot in the middle of Sydney, drinking the perfect Hendricks G&T, reading Lincoln in the Bardo, and waiting to see George Saunders at the Sydney Writers Festival – that I got a taste of it.

And, happily, it’s something that can be applied to both short stories and novels.

 

Decoding the Special Sauce

George Saunders is a master storyteller. I’ve read and re-read so many of his short stories, and each time I find myself challenged, entertained, enlightened, inspired, and (to be honest) a little awestruck. When I first tried to figure out the special sauce ingredients, I could see the things that other people had found: efficiency of prose, specificity, sensory details, evocative nouns and verbs, authentic dialogue, empathetic characterisation. But, for me, I still couldn’t figure out the super secret ingredient.

It’s like this. Geppetto was a fine craftsman; he could carve the most beautiful puppet, perfectly shape it and paint it – but without that fairy and her sparkly wand, Pinocchio would have stayed a pretty lump of wood.

You can have a strong plot and turn a pretty phrase, but that only makes a story good. You need something else to make it great.

It’s all about the plot

So, last night, as I was sitting there, reading the first few pages of Lincoln in the Bardo, it all came together in one KO sucker-punch. The magic ingredient – the thing that makes  a good story great, the je ne sais quoi that (is part of what) makes George Saunders a literary genius –  is how the plot is treated.

Anyone who has read my blog before knows that I am obsessed with plot – how to create a compelling, coherent, plausible arc of character development and events that tells a story of change, growth, and resolution. Having a plot is essential for good storytelling – stories have to have purpose and meaning, otherwise they are just pretty words on the page (and pretty words on the page do not make a story).

Knowing how to plot is important, but (as I learned last night), how you show it is just as important.

With Saunders’ work, you can sense the plot is there but you never see it. There’s a strong sense of structural integrity, of the story moving in a certain direction and with purpose, but it never makes itself openly apparent. Lincoln in the Bardo is a classic example of this – there’s no narrative exposition; the story is told, not explained. The plot is always inferred – through character actions and dialogue – never shown.

The Red Bow (which you can read here) is another brilliant example (and perhaps my favourite Saunders’ short). Throughout the story, you’re never in doubt about the plot,  but you never see it directly – it reveals itself in a process of discovery and you discover deeper layers of it as you read.

woman with black and white body paint covering half of her face with her hands

IMAGE by Joshua Fuller on Unsplash

 

Exoskeleton vs Endoskeleton

The plot is the skeleton of any story, but stories can be exoskeletal (skeleton on the outside) or endoskeletal (skeleton on the inside). And the best ones, in my opinion, are endoskeletal – always hinting at the plot (a sense of purpose and direction, a sense of structural integrity and solidity, a sense of shape and dimensions) but never actually shining a direct light on it.

In this way, a great story is a sleight of hand – a watch that hides its mechanisms below the face, a magic trick that never openly reveals its secrets, a puzzle to be solved. It is a decadent meal at a fancy restaurant without knowing the recipe, the sensation of rain on bare skin without analysing the chemical composition of the water droplets, the magic of listening to a piece of music on the radio without needing to understand the science and technology behind the recording and transmission.

The plot never pushes beyond its role as structure into narrative. (Bones protruding from the body is never pleasant – better to cover them with flesh and skin and hair).

So, while plot is something that every writer should know intimately, it is also something that should never be directly shared with the reader. When plot skeletons start showing, it is a red flag that you have moved into explaining the story, rather than telling it.

Monica Ali, in her judge’s report of the 2018 Bridport Prize, wrote:

Reading through this year’s entries I thought a lot about what makes a great short story truly great. The best ones make the back of your neck tingle. They make you feel newly alive to the world. They suck you in fast, and they do it by weaving character, setting, story, voice, dialogue and whatever other elements of the craft, into a scene that makes you wonder what will happen next, what has happened before. Many of the less successful stories, though fluently written, relied too heavily on narrative summary, so that the reader was kept at a distance, relying on second hand information instead of watching the story unfold.

There’s a lot of writing advice out there about “show don’t tell”, but maybe another way of saying that is “tell the story, don’t explain it”.


WHAT ABOUT YOU? ARE YOU STRUGGLING TO BE PLOT-STRONG, BUT NOT PLOT-HEAVY? TELL ME ABOUT IT IN THE COMMENTS!

 

Divided Elements - Book 1 and 2
You can now purchase Resistance, the award-winning first book in the dystopian Divided Elements series, and its sequel, Rebellion,  from awesome bookstores and ebook sites around the world.

Click here to start reading now!

 

Is your plot skeleton showing?

War, Revolution, Memory, Gender, and SciFi – An interview with Kameron Hurley

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

As many of you already know, I am a big fan of both reading and writing about complex (and sometimes unreliable/unsympathetic) characters in possible-future worlds dominated by division, conflict, and revolution. It’s no surprise, then, that I love Kameron Hurley’s work.

And I’m not the only one – Kameron has not only won an adoring fanbase, she has also won some major awards – the Hugo Award, Locus Award, Kitschy Award, and Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer. She was also a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Nebula Award, and the Gemmell Morningstar Award.

And, now, she is back with a new offering – The Light Brigade (released March 2019) – a mind-bending mash-up of time travel and military sci-fi that fans are calling “Starship Troopers meets Edge of Tomorrow” and “The Forever War meets 12 Monkeys”. (I know, freaking cool, right?)

Recently, Kameron took some time out of her hectic schedule to talk about her work, her philosophies, and her writing experiences – it’s a rare insight into a leading voice in speculative fiction; I hope you enjoy it.


 

Many readers (including myself) were introduced to your work with the Bel Dame Apocrypha series, but you also released a short story collection that same year, Brutal Women, where we get to see (across a number of distinct narratives), your long-held interest in conflict, loyalty, gender, power, and rebellion – themes that have permeated your stories since. If narratives are a way of making sense of the world, what do you think it is about speculative fiction that is uniquely qualified to help us make sense of brutality, inequality, struggle, and change?

Speculative fiction has the unique ability to force us to see the “truths we hold to be self-evident’ in another context. It’s easy to assume that the way we live now is normal, unchangeable, that’s it’s the only way for human beings to organize themselves. When we take human beings out of the cultures and societies we know, we are forced to re-examine our own societies. Physically traveling to other places can have this impact as well. It wasn’t until I lived and studied in South Africa that I was able to more objectively confront racism in my own country.

 

In the introduction to Brutal Women you wrote “Everyone of us is capable of great violence. Great mercy. Great kindness. Great despair.” Given the current political climate, particularly in the US, how hard is it to incorporate elements of great kindness and mercy into your stories? Do you find yourself less able to divorce the fiction from the reality, when the reality itself is surreal and bleak?

I have a sign up in my office with a quote from Paul Harvey that says, “During times like these it’s important to remember that there have always been times like these.” I often think about how much more horrifying the Regan era would have been if we had Twitter giving us the play by play.

Progress is not a straight line, and it’s hope that has to sustain us when everything looks dire. Mr. Rogers tells us all to “look for the helpers” during times of disaster, and I’ve been focusing a lot more on that, promoting the good instead of signal boosting the bad, in my life and in my fiction.

 

I love that you open your introduction to Brutal Women with “These are not particularly good stories, What you see here is what you get: a struggling writer’s juvenilia, from the first clunking story I published when I was 17…”. It’s a rare opportunity to see the progress of a Hugo award-winning author from ‘juvenilia’ to one of my all-time favourite opening lines – “Nyx sold her womb somewhere between Punjai and Faleen, on the edge of the desert.” What were the turning points and milestones in your writing life that helped you evolved as a writer? Was it a slow process of metamorphosis to get to where you are now, or was there a tipping point after which it all just kind of fell into place?

My first big milestone was attending the Clarion West writing workshop back when I was twenty. They say you can advance something like two years in your craft in those six weeks, and it was certainly true for me. Nearly dying when I was twenty-six also made me approach my work and my craft differently. I was less afraid about pushing the boundaries of the genre by that point. It turns out that almost dying helps you put things in perspective.

Partnering with my agent, Hannah Bowman, was a great level up as well. She is very active on the editorial side, and excellent with understanding and communicating structure. Writing The Stars are Legion and The Light Brigade with her editorial eye from the ground gave me a much better handle on structure and process than I’d had before.

 

A few years’ ago, you released a collection of essays, The Geek Feminist Revolution, that presented your views on (and experiences with) the three Gs – gender, genre, and geekdom. In a world where ‘feminism’ is a dirty word and stories are full of one-dimensional female characters – the “strong female”, the “stoic woman”, the “plucky girl” – and narratives that still fail the Bechdel test, how important is it for speculative fiction to challenge gendered identities? Do we need to introduce new archetypes or is it more important to do away with them altogether and create dichotomies and multi-faceted characters?

I’d point out that plenty of folks don’t think feminism is a dirty word. Certainly some cesspools of the internet would like to think of it that way, but unlike with my generation, I’m seeing more and more people in this new generation unafraid to use the word feminism when talking about progressive social change. They are leading the way on discussions of intersectional feminism and truly inclusive feminism that previous waves of white, cis feminism was loathe to confront.

I have always sought to create characters that are people first. The only way to breakdown a trope is to create and include diverse representations of people. That means you have to be willing to explore the good, the bad, and the ugly.

 

Both The Stars are Legion and your soon-to-be-released The Light Brigade feature protagonists with fractured minds and flawed memories, which is great for introducing tension borne of unreliability and ambiguity. What is it about this trope that you are drawn to?

Memory is a funny thing. The human mind is very malleable, and can be tricked and manipulated in both shocking and amazing ways. I’ve spent a lot of time studying psychology and sociology, and understanding how the brain forms memories, builds narrative, and interprets the world is endlessly fascinating to me. I read a lot about psychology and sociology, as well as how we perceive and construct both time and reality. It’s a lot more spooky and fantastical than we’d like to admit.

 

When did the idea for The Light Brigade come to you? What was the driving emotion behind it (i.e. what were you feeling as you developed the story idea), and did that emotion change as you were writing it?

The Light Brigade began as a short story for my Patreon backers. I loved the idea of turning human beings into literal balls of light to get them from one interplanetary front to another. I also found that I needed to channel a lot of my hope and anger into a story about someone unremarkable who is still able to drive lasting change.

 

How does The Light Brigade sit within your existing body of work – what are the common threads that connect them? And how does it break away from what has gone before to establish itself as new and distinct narrative?

Fans of my prior work will still get all the stuff they love: morally gray choices, cool worldbuilding, themes of war and revolution, badass characters, but in a world that’s easier to see as having been extrapolated from this one. This novel is set in a recognizable future, a few hundred years out from ours, at most. They’ve survived climate change at a rise of 4 degrees Celsius. I write about tough people making tough choices, always, but this one is certainly both more structurally complex than my other work and also more focused on a single protagonist.

 

In every book, there is a piece of the writer embedded in the narrative. If you could choose one sentence or paragraph from The Light Brigade that illuminates who you are (or were at the time of writing it), whatwould it be?

The Corporate Corps wants to break you, I know that. They want to break you down and rebuild you. They want to carve away all the softness, all the gooey bits, the fatty deposits that keep you warm and safe. They want to break you down to the bones, see glistening, gleaming muscle and pulpy viscera. As I labored on that black road, shivering, hallucinating, I had a moment of terrible fear. When they broke me apart, what were they going to find inside?

 

Light-Brigade-B&N


RELEASE DATE: MARCH 2019
GET YOUR COPY NOW

From the Hugo Award­­-winning author of The Stars Are Legion comes a brand-new science fiction thriller about a futuristic war.

They said the war would turn us into light. 

The Light Brigade: it’s what soldiers fighting the war against Mars call the ones who come back…different. Grunts in the corporate corps get busted down into light to travel to and from interplanetary battlefronts. Everyone is changed by what the corps must do in order to break them down into light. Those who survive learn to stick to the mission brief–no matter what actually happens during combat.

Dietz, a fresh recruit in the infantry, begins to experience combat drops that don’t sync up with the platoon’s. And Dietz’s bad drops tell a story of the war that’s not at all what the corporate brass want the soldiers to think it is.

Is Dietz really experiencing the war differently, or is it combat madness? Trying to untangle memory from mission brief and survive with sanity intact, Dietz is ready to become a hero–or maybe a villain; in war it’s hard to tell the difference.

A worthy successor to classic stories like Downbelow StationStarship Troopers, and The Forever War,The Light Brigade is award-winning author Kameron Hurley’s gritty time-bending take on the future of war.

 

KH2018authorpic
Kameron Hurley is the author of The Light Brigade (March 2019), The Stars are Legion and the essay collection The Geek Feminist Revolution, as well as the award-winning God’s War Trilogy and The Worldbreaker Saga. Hurley has won the Hugo Award, Locus Award, Kitschy Award, and Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer. She was also a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Nebula Award, and the Gemmell Morningstar Award. Her short fiction has appeared in Popular Science MagazineLightspeed and numerous anthologies. She posts regularly at KameronHurley.com

 

 


WANT MORE GREAT SPECULATIVE FICTION BOOKS?

Divided Elements - Book 1 and 2
Resistance, The award-winning first book in the dark dystopian Divided Elements series is available to read free on Kindle Unlimited. Click here to start reading!

You can also purchase your copy of the anticipated sequel Rebellion. Click here to grab your copy!

 

War, Revolution, Memory, Gender, and SciFi – An interview with Kameron Hurley

Energising your plot

One-sentence theme: Working with narrative energy to improve story pacing 

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

As most of you know, I’m in the second act doldrums of my current WIP (but not for long, because the break into the Act III is just around the corner – take that, writer insecurity!). Like most writers, this is a time of despair, and self-loathing, and doubt, and pretty much staring at the page and cursing its blankness. But also, for me, it is a time of introspection – I’m the sort of person, when faced with a problem, will keep attacking it until I solve it. I don’t cut knots off, I tease them out.

I’ve been stuck, this week, in a chapter where nothing really seems to happen. There’s a lot of things in motion, and there’s definitely forward momentum, but it’s all one foot in front of the other (some more hesitantly than others). When, if I were to follow my own advice of ‘every scene needs conflict’, it would be more a case of one step forward and then two steps back (preferably because something big and terrifying and intimidating had shoved it).

So here I am, in this problematic chapter (which comprises three scenes of 400, 600, and 300 words, respectively), and I’m trying to figure out what to do with it. I’m close to the my third act, where I know the action and conflict will come on in spades; I don’t want to manufacture conflict when all I need to do is really drive these characters to the trigger for Act III; I know that I need to keep things at a sufficient level of tension to not let this sucker drop below the lifeline threshold (and commit my poor WIP to the slow death of a saggy middle).

And anyway, I started thinking, what if every chapter needed conflict, but every scene just needed energy.

(Now I fully appreciate that this may just be me indulging in delusional wishful-thinking – so call me out in the comments if you need to. I’n kind of just spitballing this in a stream of consciousness, so we’ll see how it plays out…)

max-bender-560106-unsplash
Photo by Max Bender on Unsplash

Two primary types of energy

When we talk about energy, we are talking about two primary types:

KINETIC and POTENTIAL

Kinetic energy is energy possessed by something in motion.

Potential energy is energy possessed by something because of its relative position to something else.

So far, so good – it’s easy to see how both concepts can be applied to fictional narratives: scenes with kinetic energy have direct, obvious, tangible conflict – bodies and things in motion; scenes with potential energy have the promise of conflict only because of where they sit in relation to other scenes.

Image result for types of energy
Graphic by Aniruddha Pochimcherla

If your scenes hold kinetic energy – you’re all good. You have pace, you have drama, you have in-your-face conflict. There’s no risk of saggy middle, go do a celebratory dance and leave the rest of us miserable writers alone.

But, if your novel has a run of potential energy scenes, you may be drifting into second act trouble. And if you have this run of potential energy scenes in the first or third act, well then, you’ve got bigger problems than I…

So, let’s check out these potential energy subtypes and see if we can apply them to fictional narratives. And then let’s evaluate whether that helps us ascertain whether we have a problem or not.

Four types of Potential Energy

So, obviously we can’t use the literal meaning of the Potential energy subtypes. But we’re talking about fictional narratives, so I am going to use a little creative licence.

Let’s say Chemical energy is romantic tension. No action, no sexy-time, no sneaking kisses behind the gym – but the almost-kiss, the lingering looks, the brief touches, the racing heart. There’s an energy in the scene, not because there is action, but because there is no action. Just the potential for action is enough (and maybe better) – the hint of the tension possibly being realised.

And let’s say Nuclear energy is a ticking time-bomb. The countdown to an inevitable disaster – the Titanic bobbing up and down before it goes under, the flashing numbers on a explosive device ticking down, the deterioration of a terminally-ill patient, the continued regression of Benjamin Button.

We could shape Gravitational energy in one of two ways: a) as the coming together of two objects, reluctantly and/or against their will  – the tension of opposite things occupying the same space (but without direct/realised conflict, remember); think Ann Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis in Colossal just eyeing each other off; and/or b) as one thing going through a metamorphosis of a sort and transitioning (without resistance) between two states or environments (like falling from air to earth); think of scenes where a character is processing a revelation, like Elizabeth Bennet reading a letter in Pride and Prejudice. Not the aftermath, mind you; not the part when her world is turned upside down, just the part where there is the hint (or the promise) that it will.

And we could treat Elastic energy as the stretching of something away from its home, its destiny, its true North, just before it is inevitably snapped back. Like Scuffy the Tugboat (incidentally, I have (in my adult years) grown to hate that book, despite its beautiful prose, because of its depressing message of ‘don’t dream beyond your limits’), or like Jonah in the Bible.

That all seems to work, so what now?

Yes, it’s quite the neat little package, isn’t it? All these things have energy – and seem to be very reasonable alternatives to their kinetic counterparts. I mean, who doesn’t love simmering tension in a hate-to-love story or the thrill of a race against time?

Oh, and, great question.

So, as I was writing this, I came to the conclusion that potential energy in fictional narratives works the same as in reality: It’s stronger a) when it is closer to the object it has a relationship with, and b) when the object it has a relationship with is strong in and of itself. 

In narrative terms, this means your potential energy scenes lose energy the more you distance them from kinetic (action) scenes. And that they have less energy if the nearby or related kinetic scenes are weak themselves. Moral of the story: Don’t run a lot of potential energy scenes together. And make sure that you boost your kinetic energy scenes to give your potential energy scenes more gravitas.

So, your problematic chapter is fixed, then?

Sadly, no 😦 While this was incredibly helpful in identifying ways to imbue ‘sequels’ or reaction scenes with energy, I’ve realised that none of these potential energy types are in my three bogged-down scenes (and that I’ve broken my own advice and linked them together in one, horrendous run). So it’s back to the drawing board for me, but I hope it’s been reassuring for you.

Let me know what you think in the comments! And don’t forget to share on social media. 

Energising your plot

Divergence and Convergence – the curse of the second act

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

It seems that every time I reach the middle of a WIP, I start musing on the problems a second act can cause a writer. Second acts are notoriously difficult for writers – there are hundreds of books and articles out there decrying the flabby belly, the second act bog, the meandering middle, the belly of the beast, “the time which is not the beginning and not the end, the time in which the artist and the protagonist doubt themselves and wish the journey had never begun” (David Mamet, Three Uses of the Knife).

My struggle, it seems, is all to do with divergence and convergence. As a former intelligence analyst, the process of positing a reasonable theory involved both modes of thinking – divergence: brainstorming as many ideas, variables, possibilities as you could think up, and just running with them; and convergence: critically analysing the options to identify the strongest and then pushing them to their limits to see which would break and which would stand up to the assault.

It’s the same with drafting a book. Act I is drafted with what I call acute divergence – all wild ideas are welcome and there is no internal consistency that has been established or needs to be obeyed. This is creativity unleashed – it’s the exciting, adrenalin-fuelled writing rush. It’s why I have a thousand story ideas lurking on index cards and why I started a dozen stories in my youth but never got beyond chapter five.

But, after Act I, comes Act II. The first part of the second act (Act II(a)) is drafted with I call obtuse divergence – there’s still a lot of room for movement and creativity, even though the rules of consistency have been established. The world, the characters, the way things work have shape and form, but are still, to a certain extent, malleable. Like a child out of the womb; the features are formed – eyes look like eyes, toes like toes, the external tail of the embryo now a coccyx – but the bones haven’t yet set. When I draft Act II(a), I know there isn’t as much free reign or creative licence I had in Act I, but there’s still enough to take one of the story threads and let my imagination exploit it.

Mikhaeyla Kopievsky - Writing Tips and Tricks

That all changes after the Midpoint and the arrival of Act II(b). Now, I’m firmly in obtuse convergence. The parameters of the story are well-established – the bones have set – and I can feel myself chafing against the harder boundary. What’s worse, there’s no forward/downhill momentum – everything is still so vague with all these story threads to manage, it all just seems to coalesce in the middle. The epitome of a sagging belly! There’s no magic cure for this – you just have to power through it. Keep converging your story – tightening the plot, weaving the story threads closer together, shedding dead weight, and sharpening the spear-point.

Because if you do that, you’ll get to Act III – the point of acute convergence. Here there is no creative licence to go off track – everything is firmly in place. But in a good way. With everything finally tightened, you have  clear sight to the end. You have the forward/downhill momentum. It’s at this point, much like the first act, where the story seems to take on a life of its own – the driving force of the earlier acts pushing it towards its natural conclusion. I find that I write fastest (and with the most confidence) in the first and third acts – because there is acute plotting, drafting, and creativity at play.

Knowing that obtuseness is the enemy of my writing productivity, I’m now on a mission to discover tips and techniques to help deal with it… I’ll keep you all updated on what I find!

And if you have tips and techniques of your own – share them below in the comments! 

Divergence and Convergence – the curse of the second act

Play like a girl: Challenging gender stereotypes in spec fiction

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

Today, I’m launching a dystopian anthology with eleven other indie authors. On the Brink features some amazing stories and most of them feature protagonists that are female, flawed, and ferocious. It got me thinking about my own posts on the subject of gender in speculative fiction and I realised that I never posted the guest post I published on Amid the Imaginary. So here it is in all its glory for you to read:

Challenging the Collective Identity

Just a little while ago, on 14 July, I released the second book in my Divided Elements series, Rebellion. I thought it was kind of fitting that Rebellion was published on Bastille Day, since it is a dystopian tale of revolution set in a post-apocalyptic Paris. Interestingly, 14 July is also celebrated as International Non-binary Day – which similarly held a nice symmetry, since my book is centered on challenging the identity stereotypes society imposes.

As someone who has always strongly identified as female and as a feminist, but not particularly feminine, Non-binary Day got me thinking about how gendered identity – like all types of identity – is both a deeply personal and a deeply cultural concept. And that authentic identity is forged in the way we both embrace and challenge the cultural stereotypes of that collective identity.

Collective identity is a tricky thing – by its very nature it is a generalisation; a broad-brushed characterisation of a shared experience, perspective, and values-system. Changing the way we view that characterisation (and opening up opportunities for challenging it), requires changing the narrative…

And what better vehicle for doing that than actual narratives?

Science fiction has been creating mind-bending narratives for decades and there are likely hundreds of examples that show stereotypes being challenged and reimagined. Today I want to share with you my favourite examples of gendered stereotypes turned on their heads by scifi books and movies:

Sarah Connor (Terminator) – ‘Mother’. Sarah Connor is not the kind of mother you’d Image result for sarah connorfind in a Norman Rockwell painting and yet she is nothing if not fiercely maternal. Sarah debunks all concepts of passive, gentle motherhood and instead gives us a mother lioness.

 

 

 

 

 

Ellen Ripley (Alien) – ‘Damsel in Distress’. Ellen Ripley Image result for ellen ripleyis on a distant, unfamiliar planet when her entire crew is decimated by a really freaking scary alien. Ellen is not a kick-ass, alien-killing ninja (a la Emily Blunt’s Angel of Verdun in Edge of Tomorrow) – she is just a woman who is left alone and who must survive with the skills, knowledge and resources available to her. She is not super-human, but she finds a super-human strength within her to win her battle with a formidable foe and make it out alive.

 

 

 

Ann Burden (Z is for Zacahariah) – ‘Dreamy Schoolgirl’. Ann, a teenage girl who is left Image result for ann z for zachariahalone on her family’s farm in the wake of a nuclear fallout, undergoes a rite of passage when her isolation is interrupted by the arrival of Loomis – an older man who appears with a radiation safe-suit and ideas on how to survive. Desperate for company and impressed by his confidence and credentials, Ann nurses him to health and fantasizes about eventually marrying him, falling into line with his ideas and directions. Over time, she starts to harbor doubts about the man and his ideas and when he turns aggressive and violent, rather than capitulate to submission, Ann takes control of her life and claws back her own agency.

YT (Snowcrash) – ‘Sweet Sidekick’. YT (Yours Truly) is a savvy, self-assured Image result for snowcrashskateboarding courier who is more the reluctant hero than the book’s actual protagonist, Hiro. YT is a world-weary fifteen year old, who wears a dentata (anti-rape device), frequently thinks about sex, throws herself into the path of danger, and still loves her mum.

 

 

 

 

 

Nyx (God’s War) – ‘Pure Warrior’. There are many stories about women warriors who Image result for gods war kameronare righteous and just and almost Madonna-like (holy, not musical) in their pure quest for victory. Not Nyx. Nyx is a ruthless mercenary who kills for money, not morals and not loyalty. She is not the one to save the cat, she is one to save herself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Each of these examples show how good science fiction can challenge what we think we know about a shared experience and collective identity. I see aspects of myself, my sister, my mother, and my friends in all of these characters – and I love that they broaden my understanding of what being female is and can be.

Challenging gender stereotypes creates a more dynamic and fluid understanding of identity and allows us to create more personal reflections of the cultural stereotypes that have previously limited us.

I hope to read, and create!, more amazing and interesting and unique female characters that continue to challenge and inspire me.

What about you? What stories, tv series or movies have challenged gender (or other) stereotypes for you? Tell me in the comments!

 

Divided Elements - Book 1 and 2
You can now purchase Resistance, the award-winning first book in the dystopian Divided Elements series, and its sequel, Rebellion,  from awesome bookstores and ebook sites around the world.

Click here to start reading now!

 

 

On the Brink: A Dystopian Anthology by [Ingleby, Alison, Huard, Michael W., Adkins, Heather Marie, Andrews, Carissa, Andrews, Alanah, Ward, Chris, Korn, Tracy, Littlemore, Clare, Heingarten, Paul, Andrews, Ellabee, Behn, Brea, Kopievsky, Mikhaeyla]
For a limited time, you can also grab your copy of On the Brink – a dystopian anthology from twelve best-selling and award-winning indie authors, featuring Revelation: A Divided Elements origin story. 

 

Play like a girl: Challenging gender stereotypes in spec fiction

Indie Author Spotlight – Emma Pullar, author of ‘Avian’

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

For long-time readers of my blog, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of dystopian narratives and indie authors – and today I get to combine both of them!

The indie author and publishing world is an incredibly vibrant and supportive community. Over the years, I’ve been lucky to meet a lot of great authors and publishers who are creating and publishing interesting and unique stories – and today’s guest author is no different.

Emma Pullar

 

Emma Pullar is a London-born author of dark fiction whose  award-winning horror and sci-fi short stories have been published in four different anthologies. A writer of many talents, Emma has also written a best-selling children’s book and dabbles in screenwriting. But it is her dystopian thriller duology (published by indie house, Bloodhound Books) – and not the fact that she spent some time living ‘across the ditch’ 🙂 (an Aus-Kiwi term for those playing along at home) – that I signed up for her blog blitz.

 

I read the first book of the duology, Skeletal, last week and was immediately struck by Emma’s treatment of one of my favourite dystopian archetypes – the divided population. It is a theme I have explored extensively in my own dystopian series, Divided Elements,  and I was interested in discussing with Emma her own thoughts on the trope.


 

Thanks for joining us today, Emma! Your first book, Skeletal, deals with some classic dystopian themes, including a divided population and a government that keeps it divided by spreading lies to both sides about the other –

What drew you to this theme?

What drew me to the divided society theme is how divided our own societies are. I’ve moved between middle and working-class and lived in different countries with varying degrees of class separation. There is always going to be a pyramid structure to any society but some are fairer than others and it’s possible to better yourself. I find the UK (my birth country) a hard place to better your situation. The poor stay poor and now we have a new class of people called ‘the working poor’ and for me, this is disgraceful. I took the injustices I had experienced in my life growing up in a low social economic area and the opportunities I was afforded when moved to an affluent area in another country, and twisted them into the strange place that is Gale City.

Do you have any favourite books or movies that also deal with this  theme?

I love dystopian books and movies. Most dystopian societies in literature and film are divided into the powerful and powerless.  However, the books/films Skeletal has been likened to by reviewers are ones I had never read/watched.

I love The Handmaid’s Tale and 1984 but I did not read those until after I had written Skeletal. Writers definitely have similar thought patterns.

The Hunger Games and Battle Royale are two of my favourites. With both of those there is a lottery in being entered into the games. Showcase is a lottery of sorts. So I guess the lottery/getting picked idea was an influence.

Do you see this theme playing out in ‘real life’?

As in my first answer, yes, I do see this playing out in real life. I think history repeats itself and humans never learn from the past. Those in power will continue to be greedy until the majority of society are starving and have no choice but to bring them down. Then the cycle starts again.

How does this theme evolve in your second book, Avian?

In Avian we see how the system came to be in the first place and why humans (emotional creatures) struggle to make good choices and govern themselves. Skyla finds out that alternative ways of living can be harmonious. Everyone has a part to play and people help each other. “The system does not work” and Skyla knew this but that doesn’t mean a new system isn’t the answer.

 


 

Emma Pullar - Skeletal_cover
CENTRAL IS LOSING ITS GRIP ON THE CITIZENS OF GALE CITY.

Megan Skyla, who refused to play by Central’s rules and become a surrogate for her masters, has thrown the city into chaos. Corrupting those around her, she and her friends are forced into hiding – hunted by Central, the evil rulers of Gale City. Skyla’s desperate attempts to keep everyone alive ends when they’re kidnapped by feuding gangs.

Skyla cuts a deal and then betrays both gangs. Now there is nowhere left to run. It’s the desert or die. Her best friend, Crow, thinks she still wants to find a way to cure the Morbian masters of their obesity and finish what she started.

But Skyla has other plans. She’s sure there are settlements in the desert, there must be something out there … and there is. Something terrible.

Skyla is about to find out there’s more than one way to bring about change but one truth remains … Central must be destroyed in order to ensure her survival. There is no other way.

 

Find Emma on:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Emma-Pullar/e/B01N5FM39O

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4795002.Emma_Pullar

Webiste: www.emmapullar.come

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Emma-Pullar-Storyteller-315550881823466/

Twitter:  @EmmaStoryteller

Instagram: @emmapullar_storyteller

 

Want more great dystopian books?

Divided Elements - Book 1 and 2

 

Resistance, The award-winning first book in the dystopian Divided Elements series is now available for free! Click here to grab your copy.

You can also purchase your copy of the anticipated sequel Rebellion. Click here to start reading now!

 

 

 

 

 

Indie Author Spotlight – Emma Pullar, author of ‘Avian’

How does this ‘conflict, not goals’ thing work anyway?

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

Recently I wrote a post about character needing conflict, not goals. I received a great question from a reader via email and thought I’d post it – and the response – here so that you can all get some additional insight and join the conversation.

(Note: story details from the question have been removed – but don’t worry, it doesn’t affect the response)

QUESTION:

 

OHHHH MAII GAWD

So, I read that article like a thousand times over, and I’m trying to get in the mindset of thinking this way.

But I’m hitting a wall.

I keep thinking Goal oriented.

Should I just think of a character and give her problems to solve which will in return create a goal?

 

 

REPLY:

 

Hey! Thanks for reaching out.

Yeah, it can be tricky to change your mindset when the ‘every scene needs a goal’ advice is so prevalent. The way I like to think about it is this:

In Act 1, your character is just living (or trying to live) their normal life, even though external problems/forces are starting to disrupt things (to various degrees of success) until…

Act 2A, where your character is finally engaging with this external problem/force but hasn’t really changed who they are (i.e. hasn’t changed their habits/mindset/normal way of approaching things and hasn’t undergone any real personal growth and change) and they aren’t really being proactive, just reacting to things,  until…

The midpoint/reversal throws them into Act 2B and then they start being proactive and drawing on the new skills, resources, mindset, allies, etc they have accumulated on the way. They start approaching things from a new perspective and understanding (even if it’s still early days and they’re only just learning how to use them).

So – that said – it’s hard to give your character goals in Act 1 and Act 2A, because those two acts are really about avoidance of/denial of/disinterest in/inability to engage with the emerging problem (Act 1) and reactive efforts to just survive (Act 2A).

For those two acts that make up the first half of your book, I find it easier to focus less on ‘goals’ and more on ‘conflict’.

Conflict can be problems, obstacles, challenges, physical altercations, arguments – anything that puts the character out of their comfort zone and demands they respond.

So, going back to your story example  – in the first act, ask what conflict is removing your MC from her comfort zone and forcing her out of her normal routine? Don’t worry about giving her scene goals – use the assumption that, in the first act, every scene’s goal is to avoid the problem.

In Act 2A, ask yourself how would ‘normal’ MC deal with the new environment/situation she finds herself in? And then put in her way things that challenge that old way of dealing. If she was always able to defeat her foes by drawing on a magic power, make that power not effective anymore. Or give her antagonists that know how to beat it. Keep putting conflicts in her way that limit her ability to draw on her old way of doing things and force her to grow as a character so that in Act 2B she has to grow and change in order to succeed.

I hope that helps!

 

What about you? Do you also struggle switching your mindset from goals to conflict? Or do you have your own perspective on this paradigm shift that can help our reader/author?

How does this ‘conflict, not goals’ thing work anyway?