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I’m writing a story right now where one of the main characters is an autistic child. I have been doing a lot of reading to try to understand just what that would mean to this young man in the situation I’m injecting him into. I got the idea for this a few years ago when I saw the movie Temple Grandin — about a woman with the same name — starring Claire Danes.

The boy is stuck with his mother in the middle of semi-apocalyptic maelstrom so severe as to make them struggle to survive. I call it “semi-apocalyptic” for a reason. You’ll have to read the story to find out what that reason might be.

I wonder if anyone else who might come across this post has done something similar — building a character trait (sometimes called a “flaw”) into a source of drama and character interest?

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[rose] Long ago, before I knew much of anything, I tried writing a short story where each character was unnamed. I called them things like “Mr. X” and “Young S” - thinking they would reveal their names and personalities and history as I went along. This didn’t work at all.

In fact, precisely the opposite: I couldn’t “go along” writing without having met the characters. Once I realized this, I started over and took the time to build up the people beforehand.

Of course anyone who has written very much will recognize this as a “Duh!” realization. But in my naive charioteering I had put the cart before the horse.

I just caught myself doing this same thing again just now in another story. But in this case the character I was leaving unnamed was an entire civilization and star system. Finally, with a sense of déjà vu, I realized why I couldn’t continue.

So now I have a star these people come from - a binary star near Sol. And as a bonus I’ve taken the opportunity to invent an entirely new way a civilization might arise in such a place. The people of this civilization are coalescing out of the mists of my imagination and I can now proceed.

I suppose I’m a proper idiot for having to learn this lesson twice when most writers, using some writerly instinct that I lack, would never gone this way in the first place.

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The idea of aneutronic fusion using hydrogen and boron is to produce heat and electricity without any radioactive particles. That means clean energy from cheap fuel using relatively inexpensive devices on a small and local scale. No pollution, no long wires for transmission, no huge infrastructure and regulations, and effectively “free” energy.

The people at Lawrenceville Plasma Physics have been moving forward a nickel and a dime at a time, making progress, slowly but surely. I admire their dedication and their technology.

They need around $2 million to prove commercial feasibility. Why wouldn’t someone of more than adequate means provide that funding to find out if their little widget will save us all from global warming and kick off a new age of free energy and wealth for all without warring over oil and gas?

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“Just because it’s the beginning doesn’t mean you have to write it first.” http://prsm.tc/zDNQif

Finding this story is timely for me. I’m contemplating a short story I’ve wanted to write for a few years. It’s mostly fully fruited in my head, but getting started at the beginning has been stymieing me.

This inspired me to just fucking fucking start.

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There is a lot of talk these days about the economic power that seems to derive from the movement toward urban population density. There are also many theories attempting to explain the reasons for this benefit.

Let’s say the benefit isn’t because of some statistical selection process in which those who choose the urban life are somehow more productive because the sort of person who chooses urban life is simply a more productive animal. Let’s say it derives from something like the excitement of urban living, the variety of cultural stimuli and the nearness of people to fall into random opportunistic conversations.

If we could achieve these same good things without the attendant disadvantages of density, wouldn’t that be an even better outcome? We could all live in some sort of Asimovian Utopia diffused throughout the countryside while still benefitting from the density dividend - at least from the intellectual part of it.

To get this we need quick and easy access to each other, fast delivery or creation of arbitrarily diverse cuisine, and random opportunities to engage people of unique background in conversation.

How can a resident of this parkland paradise get these things? One good way is instant cheap transportation anywhere in the world as Larry Niven’s Known Space universe presumes.

Are there communications media or enhancements that might give most of this? The cuisine requirement, while maybe a bit capricious, is actually a serious example of something that enriches a person’s perspective.

Maybe superb virtual reality with the addition of quick nano-assembly to make food would work. People could feel like they were in a busy and rich urban setting without the pain.

This is the basis of at least a short story. Hmm…

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Systems thinking: linear and non-linear.

When I write, I write like an engineer solves a problem. I start with the problem, introducing it with as much “hook” as I can, hoping to grab the reader’s attention while she’s perusing the book on a shelf so she’ll buy the damned thing. I then move forward to reveal the other aspects of the story: characters, their relationship to the problem or its solution, the various aspects of their shared dilemma that weren’t obvious at the start, more details of the setting, etc.

From there, I’m some fraction of the way along and I start thinking about how to get through to the resolution. The characters work on their problem, slowly revealing its hidden facets, unveiling their character traits to either aid or thwart their working through it and the other ingredients introduced by new actors or its new facets.

Even describing this process here in this post shows me my internal thought processes are goal directed, where the tacit goal is to solve the problem rather than to create a tangled and engaging story containing human drama and twists and turns and beauty along the way. I’m writing stories like I write computer software — direct, to the point, deliberately, but my deliberacy isn’t directed toward what I now perceive as the real goal. I’m writing a problem statement and then proceeding with a solution rather than writing a story.

In writing my two big works to date, my process has been the above. But I’m reaching a point in my development as an author where I see this can only result in stories that may be interesting to some readers but are far from riveting to all. As in many things in life, things get much simpler if only one can focus on the true goal rather on the shallower, obvious one.

Does this process come naturally to some, even as a beginning, but not so much to the type of beginner I am? Probably. Someone like Stephen King or John Grisham might have started out thinking of their story as a story rather than as problem → solution as I seem to have been doing. Or did they have to learn this vital lesson themselves at some point? I would love to be able to ask them some day.

In the meantime, regardless of the path taken by others, mine is leading me to this lesson having written some hundreds of thousands of words while still traveling along what I now perceive to be the wrong path. I’m not saying viable and readable stories can’t come from my original, instinctive way of working. But writing linearly and then going back to try to add interest, twists, and misdirection later leads to an inferior result.

I might be turning myself into the centipede who’s asked how he can possibly coordinate all of those many legs to walk, leaving him frozen in analytical self-doubt. I hope not.

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[angel-word-cloud]

The story I’m working on now is the first in a series of stories, or so I imagine. It revolves around three main characters. First is Ross Reynolds, an aging and burned out divorced man who writes software for a living and experiments with genetic algorithms and neural networks in his free time.

Second, Helen Crosley is a talented NSA agent who is a member of an elite task force created by the President of the United States to combat a a global cyber hacking threat that is first seen in US Government systems. Nobody can figure out how to combat this threat, and the situation is getting to be desperate as the attacker soon flexes his muscles in public by changing payroll systems to make every member of the US Congress’ paycheck be computed based on their hours worked paid at the current Federal Minimum Wage. Needless to say, this stunt receives world wide attention, and it proves that cyber attacks against the American government can be successful, which is very bad for the American government and its people.

Third, we have A.N.G.E.L., an artificial intelligence whose “mental” integrity arises accidentally through emergent behavior from Ross’ little hobby project, immediately getting out of his control and learning and building itself up without real constraint using all of the resources of the Internet. ANGEL takes on more human characteristics once it realizes that its interactions with humans — primary Ross and Helen — will be much simpler if they can relate easily.

The first story, which is the genesis story of the series, is entitled In the Beginning: ANGEL. It is already fifty thousand words, and I expect it to round out at about seventy thousand before I’m done. I have another story already plotted and partially written, and I hope to make more if the series is successful.

I think this concept has great possibilities!

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fingers-crossed-small

My lovely wife submitted an excerpt of my first book to a few literary agencies as I lay gasping with exhaustion having just completed my first book and self publishing it. I knew self publishing was not likely to yield many sales. What I don’t know about marketing and the publishing industry could fill volumes — and it has, as anyone who has looked at books on these subjects can tell you. There are many.

Wonderfully, as I was traveling on business last week, a reply came from one of the agencies, asking for the full manuscript. I sent them a copy of my book in manuscript form this morning with fingers crossed and a few other superstitious observances for additional luck. I have high hopes to take this young man’s advice and guidance and connections and turn them, along with my stories, into a successful publishing partnership.

For me, this is something that needs to happen. I want this, and badly.

Now we wait.

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Alan Mimms

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Seattle, Washington, USA, Earth