Writing Speeches

I have characters who have to give speeches. I’m sure most authors have this problem. How do you write a speech, really?

Here’s a speech from my character Rik van der Gelder after the conviction and initial sentencing by tribunal of the would-be warlord, Soong. I worked on this for almost two days, and I still hate it. But I think it’s as good as I could do at the time. Maybe I could make it better now, but that ship has sailed.

My fellows in the United Planets, I want you to think about what it means to have freedom and to be a society dedicated to justice and peace. I want you to think about what our fundamental principles mean today, and every day, to each one of us. I want you to think about
what it is we have been fighting for. Not only do we enjoy the fruits of these beliefs, but we are also bound by the responsibility of fidelity to them, no matter how difficult that may be.

It’s obvious that the worlds of the United Planets have been wronged, terribly and unforgivably, by one insane man’s ruthless pursuit of personal power, and by many others who blindly followed him. Stories like this have played out in human civilizations for all of our recorded history. In some cases, the result was remembered by historians as positive and unifying, and in others as despicable acts of senseless aggression.

We all know, objectivity, that many of the formative moments of our civilization’s history could be viewed in either of these two polar opposite ways. In each case, whether the ‘good guys’ or the ‘bad guys’ triumphed our civilization eventually moved on.

I don’t suggest we eliminate punishment for those responsible for the deaths and destruction we’ve all endured for the last seven years. Nor do I believe we should grant clemency. But I ask you to consider, in your mind and conscience and heart if a society such as ours, dedicated to justice and peace as we claim we are, should mete out punishments as brutal and barbaric as those that have been prescribed by the Tribunal today.

Do we believe in justice? Of course — it is fundamental. Is punishment for these war crimes just? There’s no doubt that it is. Consider the following critical question: Does the proposed punishment
sound like justice? Or does it sound like an angry mob’s mass animal instinct to seek revenge?

Thank you for your attention.

Neil Gaiman’s Eight Rules of Writing

Neil Gaiman's 8 rules of writing.

Neil Gaiman’s 8 rules of writing.

Wil Wheaton often surprises me. He’s profane, silly, stupid, and often very wise. I find he suffers from Sturgeon’s Law, but the ten percent that isn’t crap is sublime. Wheaton finds things for me that I wouldn’t find any other way. It was Wheaton’s blog post that led me to Gaiman’s eight writing tips, even if I choose to link to the original post instead of Wil’s graphical form.

These “rules” are right on. I find that I have accidentally managed to follow them in my writing over the years I have been learning how by doing. Gaiman, as usual, is bloody well right. If John Scalzi is living my image of The Perfect Life, Neil Gaiman is living the one I would live if I weren’t an old, stodgy person – he’s married to Amanda Palmer, for Christ’s sake! That fascinatingly wild woman is someone I couldn’t survive living with, I’m certain; my wonderful wife is a perfect match for me. In fact, as my mother would tell you if she were still living, I was born stodgy and conservative. To corrupt an Indiana Jones quote, apparently it’s not the years, honey, it’s the genes.

Each of these rules of writing is important in its own right. The one about putting your manuscript away for a while before re-reading it has been vital for me. I found a lot of bugs in the storytelling from doing this, but also my perspective had changed over time. That might have something to do with the amount of time — I put it away for nearly a decade while I worked for a startup that demanded all of my energy, and later got a divorce. Sometimes life gets in the way of art.

Listening to your pre-readers is hard. Not in the sense of ego being crushed — I expected them to say things that crushed my baby’s soul. But knowing what to do about the issues they found, where they arguably had a point of view more relevant to my book than I did, now that was difficult. I had two people read my book that weren’t science fiction fans of any stripe. In fact, they were both English majors. They found a lot in my book to like, which helped me feel better about it. But they also saw things that I could never perceive because I was standing in the middle of the stream that had flowed through my own experience reading science fiction for fifty years.

Gaiman and Scalzi are geniuses in their field. I’m only striving to be above average at this point.