Thursday, February 06, 2014

Mary Sue's, Sexism, and Self Insertion

I've been noticing a pattern lately. Namely, all my recent MCs (main characters) tend to be male . There are reasons behind this, I think, that has a lot to do with how women are portrayed in media and books in general.

There are certain things that having a male character seems to let you do. One, you've got less chance of being called out on Mary Sue-ing things. (A very good essay on why the whole Mary Sue concept is less about audacious wish fulfilment and more about girls not being allowed to have wish fulfilment here). You can pretty much guarentee the absence of a love triangle by having a male POV character. You can have them do more with less justification.

But these issues weren't initially something I considered. For me, the real issue, as I saw it,  was self insertion. The first couple of characters I wrote were pretty much me. It was classic Mary Sue tropism, but without the fanfiction. Now, I believe there are plenty of male Mary Sues out there, but they get called on it less. They get away with it more (especially the whole "everyone finds me attractive thing". I'm not sure that happens an absolute heap for both men and women in real life). But I did have a significant issue with just putting myself in the books.

And I knew me. Me wasn't interesting, I wanted to be in the heads of other characters. So the first thing I did was change the sex. Bam, instant other character culture shock. I had to figure all this stuff out, and I basically had to learn how to create a character from scratch, something I hadn't been doing before. Then I went and made an old man my next MC. My currently WIP has a 32 year old guy as the MC. All distinct, different voices.

All well and good. Those were my initial reasons for writing from the male POV. But now?  I know how to do characters. I know how to build them. I know how to not self insert. But still, I cringe at the idea of going back to female characters. Why? Because I feel people will point and say "it's just you."  Or - "there's no way society would let her get away with that" or "wait, she finds both these characters attractive, I don't like love triangles (even when there is no triangle, it's just an observation she's made)." Guys are allowed to find umpteen girls hot and not have issues with angst. There's... certain ideas that are ingrained into my mind when it comes to the standard female and male characters are held to. Especially in Sci-fi and fantasy. For example, I found myself doing it again the other day - searching down urban fantasy novels with male protagonists because I knew the chance of cross over into paranormal romance (which is something that's not really my kettle of fish), was next to nill. I made all these presumption about the strength of the plot based upon the character's sex.

Now, this may just be my issue, but I wonder sometimes. I didn't suddenly wake up and have all these presumptions in my head, they happened somewhere along the way while I was reading and writing and looking at reviews.

I really need to give my self permission to write female POV characters again. And stop trying to freak out about what everyone else will presume. But it's hard, given I myself make those presumptions. If I make them about my own female POV characters, and I know I'm not self inserting, what will other people presume?

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Flash Fiction: A Recipe for Heartbreak

A Recipe for Heartbreak.

It's a small measure of hate. Half a shake of rosemary for all the years he strung you along. An ounce of his blood, a nice drop of wine from a organic place. Preservatives will mess with the spell-work.

Feel free to drink some of that wine while you're letting the start of the potion simmer.

Next comes the ingredients you'll actually have to go to the apothecary for. I recommend going before you drink the wine that's not going into the potion. Going after you've drunk it can land you in a jail cell, and all your hard work of the night before will be burnt away. If you're lucky, your anti fire charms are all strong and have been recently refreshed by a specialist practitioner.

Start again. The dragon tears will be the most expensive. Feel free to curse the fact that you didn't buy them before you had to post bail for your drunk and disorderly charge.

Start again. Maybe measure and line up your ingredients. Then, if you didn't get enough blood for a second shot, go out and find some more.

He did, after all, call you a crazy bitch, so feel free to go all out. From experience, I can recommend a good nose bleed to assist in collection. Act like you didn't mean it after you cast the spell, hold a tissue to his nose.

Burning the blood and collecting it's essence works just as well as the fresh stuff.

So start again. An ounce of blood, some preservative free wine. Let it bubble away until all the alcohol has faded, and then add the dragon tears. One drop for every time he said he loved you. If you can't remember how many times he lied, half a cup should do. Put half a cup in just to make sure. Next - apricot juice. Three slices of ginger - peal it with a spoon, you get more ginger, and you're less likely to cut yourself given how much alcohol you will have drunk by then.

Believe me. You'll regret it if you try and peal it with a knife. You blood in the potion will just cause swearing, and more drunken tears. Maybe a cracked tile in the kitchen from where you fling the pot at the wall. Maybe a burnt table top from where the potion washed out over the dirt ridden bench.

You probably haven't cleaned for a while by this stage. Or maybe you're one of those women who cleans to avoid things. Maybe you're a man with the same problem. Huh. I hadn't actually thought about that before now, but either way, be careful not to use a knife. You'll regret cutting yourself.

That man has already caused you enough pain without you adding to it. Believe me, I know.

Stir the potion once clockwise, twice counter clockwise. Recite the day you met, the day you first had sex, the day you fell in love. Burn the images of those days in your brain.

Let it simmer. Cry. It's okay to cry. Only you, the organic wine, and the potion will remember this.

Once you can smell the ginger, snap open three pods of cardamom, and chuck them in. Leave it after this - just turn it off, step back, and leave it to cool. Drink a hangover tonic while you wait for this. There'll be one in the basket by the door. Along with some chocolate, the bracelet your father made for you when he found out I was pregnant.

When you are sober, child, go back to the potion. Now you prick your finger. Add a drop of blood. Just one. Step back, pour the whole thing into a Tupperware container, and say these words:

"I mourn thee, and what could have been, here."

Then every day you wake up feeling like you've been ripped out from the inside, every day you wake up thinking of him, every day you wake up wishing you'd never met him, add a single drop of blood. Your pledge will bind you - whatever hate or grief you feel in your day will be stored away until you open up that Tupperware container.

It will lessen over time. It will get easier. And on the day the potion turns clear, take it, and offer it to him to drink.

This is not an unknown potion. He will know that you are healed. The whole world will know that he has betrayed you, because this only works when you are betrayed. They will also know that you are stronger than his betrayal. Take a flask, hand it to him in a public place, and walk away. Go home. Pour your own cup of the potion. Light a sandalwood candle. Take your friend up on their offer for a massage parlour's gift certificate. Drink your potion.

And live, my child. This is how I survived my one true love betraying me. It only works if that love is a man, these things are unfortunately gender specific (Your sex, however, will not matter. Odd that it works that way.)

If you turn out to be the type to fall in love with women though, I can not help, son or daughter of mine. You'll have to ask your father about that one. He had a similar potion to this that he used on me. Right after I handed this one to him.

Monday, January 27, 2014

On the Pros and Cons of Fanfiction for Writers

The Pros and Cons of Fanfiction for Writers


I don't write fanfiction. If I'd had access to the internet at a certain age, I most definitely would have, but the fact remains that I discovered fanfiction at around 20. By that stage I had already muddled through about five first drafts of my first original story, and then four sequels, and then two other original works.

The mere idea of using someone else's character's terrifies me. I don't know them. Not like I know my own. I could probably give it a go, but honestly, I feel like I should leave it up to those who are already good at it.

I do, however, read a lot of fanfiction. Namely because I find the dynamics between characters within interesting. There is some excellent fanfiction out there. I've read fanfiction that I enjoyed more than published and paid for stories. In fact, there was about an 8 month period in which I read nothing but fanfiction.

Why? Because I knew exactly what I was getting into. Twists related to the plot and the worldbuilding, not the characters. I read primarily for the characters. Your plot could be amazingballs and spectacular and be shooting rainbows out of it's third eye and if I did not connect with your characters? I would stop reading. On the opposite side of the coin, I've been known to ignore gaping-size-of-the-pacific-ocean plot holes if I like the characters in something. All is forgivable if I'm in love with your characters. Except the worst of prose. Or racism and sexism. That tends to send me running.

So what are the pros and cons of fanfiction for writers? Obviously, this is only my opinion, but it's something I've thought about a lot, especially as there are writers who make the transition to original fiction, some who don't, and some who just want some good old fashioned respect from the rest of the world. Fanficition does tend to get waved off as teenage girl crap (which is an issue in and of itself - who the hell made "teenage girl" synonymous with "no cultural or story relevance"?)


  • The Sandbox Argument
Fanfic gives a writer a place to experiment. She/he can focus on one aspect of their writing without having to worry about others. They can fiddle with language, with sexualities, with different narrative POVs. I've seen a bit of second person in short fiction, but more of it in fanfic. And some of it is horrible, but a lot of it isn't.
  • Community
 You meet people in fanfic. People beta your work because they love the characters and the worlds you're writing about as much as you do. You get cheerleaders and find other people who finally get you, you meet people who have the same crazy ideas you do, you rework each other's pieces, mix things together, translate works you've loved into your own language, create audio versions of work you've loved... It just goes on and on. It's a nice place to be. Also, instantaneous feedback. There's no 20 drafts before you let someone see it, then only letting certain people see it, then waiting six weeks for a publisher to get back to you to say they didn't like it.
  • Fun
This is inherently connected to the topic above. Fanfic is done for the love of it. It's fun. It's something you do to unwind and relax. If people don't like your work, they tend to just not comment or kudos, most of the feedback is positive, because this isn't a space for line by line critiques. It's a space for figuring things out and having fun with characters that you love.
  • Narratives outside the male, white and middle aged
This is one of the big reasons it took me so long to get back to reading original fiction again. For all the shortcomings that fanfiction can have, it does tend to be rather inclusive. Here you get queer narratives, the narratives of young teenagers, the narratives of women with kids, the narrative of their kids - it's a welcoming space. You want your two main characters to pair off, despite the fact they are of the same sex? Go ahead! Want to have a minor character rise up and be the hero? Go ahead! The world is your sandbox.


  • Less set-up required
 This is partially what makes fanfic so useful as a sandbox - you don't have to worry so much about introducing your worldbuilding and characters. Everyone knows your characters already. Exposition is not the issue it is in original fiction.

On the other hand, this also means you don't get much chance to practise weaving exposition into narrative. You also don't get much chance to world-build or create original characters. Like anything, these things take practise to do Fanfic skips this set-up and exposition for the large part.
  •  Back-scratching
As mentioned before, fanfic is done out of appreciation for the original material. People write because they enjoy themselves, because they find it a way to wind down, because they wish to contribute to the community.

As such, there's not much in the way of constructive criticism. If a person doesn't like a work, or how it's written, they tend to just click on or not comment. No-one wants to be the wet blanket. (And by constructive critique I mean a line by line - this sentence didn't work for me because of a, b or c reason sort of thing). This is partially made up for behind the scenes with beta readers and the like, but not everyone has a good beta reader.
  • Bad reactions to cannon events
Like any community, fanfic can be a bit... disturbing sometimes. Witness the death threats to the actress playing Mary Morstan in Sherlock because she would "get in the way" of the major pairing in fanfic, John/Sherlock. Witness how Uhura is often sidelined and made a horrid person in some Spock/Kirk fanfics. GinnyBashing is a tag on A03. The Internet exploded when they realised that Tauriel was included in the second Hobbit movie. Then there's showing porn that you've written/created from edited together vids to the actors involved (linkage here to the esteemed Rachel Acks tumblr ). Although to be fair, members of the media have been known to do the same, and this hardly accounts for all of fanficerdom. Most fanfic'ers don't do this stuff. But there is a visable presence that does act out in the oddest ways. Like anywhere I suppose.

So yeah. Fanfic can be awesome, it can be difficult, it can be a useful place to learn, it can be overly hand-holding, it can be a way to express yourself when you don't fall into the dominant narrative space. If I ever do decide to write it, I will be joining a cohort of people who write primarily for fun, and that's not necessarily a bad thing

1) Sourced from: Attributed to: Bradley Strong 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Curse of the Juniper Tree - Flash Fiction Challenge

The Curse of the Juniper Tree

My mother was so delighted when she held me, that she died.

I know right? What a load of crock. But my father used to tell it that way. He used to say that she'd cut her finger on a knife while eating an apple under the Juniper tree, seen her blood on the snow, and had known that she would have a child with red blood lips.

And so it came to be. A squalling son, with red blood lips, and his mother bleeding out of post-partum haemorrhage.

He buried her under that tree. My step mother used to guilt me with that tale. I figured it was because she worried about my sister - our family was one of tradition, and as the first son, I could get everything while she got nothing.

I think I was nine when she killed me? She convinced Marlinchen, my sister, that she was responsible, then made my body into black pudding, and fed it to my father. Marli gathered up my bones and laid them beneath that tree.  I don't remember much after that. When I woke up amongst the ashes of my old house, my father stood across from me, my little sister's hand clutched in his. A gold chain lay around his neck, and a new pair of red shoes graced the soles of Marlo. I'd apparently turned into a bird, lured my family out of the house with gifts. The gold chain had been for my father, the red shoes for Marli. My step-mother had received a millstone on the head as her gift.

Why I was phoenix-born and my mother wasn't? No idea. My father had some issues after that. Tried to revisit the pain of eating his only son's body on my sister more than once. I packed her up and left. Even after I'd used my only chance at rebirth, I still had the ability to be heal myself - work wasn't hard to find.


And then our father's corpse appeared under that Juniper Tree.

We were in our early 20s.  Marli had just finished her degree and I was working as a detective in a small town out of Harling.

Marli heard first, and she was crying when she called me.

"David? David, can you hear me?"

She had nightmares about talking to me and not having me answer sometimes. Our parents have a lot to answer for, let me tell you.

"Yeah, I'm here Marli. What's up?"

"It's papa." Still, even now, she called him that. I'd stopped long ago. "He'd dead."

Alright. Not exactly a shocking development, given the way his liver had been packing it in after his last bout of alcoholism...

"Someone killed him under the Juniper tree." She didn't have to say what Juniper Tree it was. We both knew. "They can't move the body."



My hometown managed to push on after the scandal of what happened when my step-mother killed me. Some lucky bastard had even had the nous to make a tourist attraction of it. A little fence around the millstone that I'd dropped on my step-mother's head as a bird, a couple of plaques at the places I'd apparently stopped as a bird to sing my ghastly little death song.

Anyway, my father's body was there, posed against the tree, the gold chain I'd given him still around his neck. Marli had long burned the shoes I'd used to tempt her out of the house. She said she didn't blame me for what happened,  but she still burnt them.

As I said, I don't really remember it. Except in my nightmares. And I'm not a very nice person in my nightmares.

By the look of it, someone had strangled him with it. A detective stood a metre from his body - female, brown skin, cute upturned nose -  and she glared at me as I walked up. Around us all was quiet, the snow falling, shadows reaching through the air

"I'm half of a mind to arrest you here and now." She said, pointing at the flash of gold. "You gave that to him, didn't you?"

"Yes, but I haven't seen him since I moved away with my sister."

I stepped around her, and came up against a glowing barrier. Shit. Paranormal influence.

"Well, I see why you think I did it."

 Silence. I waited for a moment. Still nothing. I looked to the top of the tree. No bird there, no rebirth for my father.

A hand gripped my shoulder, and calm stole over me. Peace. Quiet. Frozen.

The cop - not a cop, definitely not a cop - leaned forwards, breath brushing at my ear.

"You ever wonder why you had three things to lure her out with? Ever wonder why you just didn't wait for her to come out and drop the stone on her then?"

I had actually, but it wasn't something that had occupied my mind after we'd left my father - I'd had a teenager to raise.

"Well it should have."

 I tried to turn, but couldn't. A hand gripped my chin tight. My neck crawled - it felt as if she could snap it at any moment.

"Three things, my child." Her tone was calm, controlled, insistent. "Not two to lure and one to kill. Three people were party to your death, three things to right that balance. A millstone," my face was jerked around to the site of my step-mother's death, "A necklace," now I was wrenched around to look at my father's corspe. "And two shoes."

"She burned them." Triumph. There, she wouldn't have Marli.

"Yes, she did. Smart girl, that imposer. But still. Ash has a way of just getting everywhere, doesn't it."

Marli. I had to get back to...

"Child. Why don't you listen to your dreams? They deserve it. They should have looked after you. Listen to what your dreams tell you."

Nightmares, they were nightmares. Why should I listen to...

"Because mother says so."

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Effect of POV on Narrative - Manipulating the Reader and What they Know for Greatest Effect

The Effect of POV on Narrative - Manipulating the Reader and What they Know for Greatest Effect

This is the second topic in my exploration of narrative. The introductory post and the other posts I've written on the topic can be found here: Narration vs Dialogue and Action - Where it Fits in the Tool Box

Now. POV (or 'point of view' for those not familiar with the lingo), impacts on narrative style significantly. What is described is inherently influenced by who describes something. Description and exposition that is done well pulls it's weight.  And that, in my opinion, is the most important thing when talking about narrative description and exposition: that your narrative does more than one thing.

So your reader should be able to learn something about your characters from how they filter the world. If you POV is 1st person (I, me, we), then you're going to be quite heavily filtering all your descriptions through the character. No two first person characters should walk into the room and focus on the same things, or describe them in the same way.

If, for example, you have a character from a desert country (character A), and a character from a country that is temperate, and has no issue with water conservation (character B), and you have them walk into a room with a dripping tap. Maybe they'll both notice. More likely, however, character B will focus on what is important to them in the room - the open windows if they're cold, or the way the room looks like it's going to cost less than 30 dollars a night to sleep in. Character A will focus on the dripping tap. It might not be their primary focus, but if they're from a place where you can't water their lawns, and water sometimes has to be trucked in? It's going to annoy them, dripping away in the back of their mind until they finally crack and turn it off.

So our character's backgrounds influence how they see things. So too do their goals and ambitions. If Character A has just brought the place and intends to let it out, he'll be focusing on the scuffed carpet, checking if the windows close, thinking about re-doing the plumbing because surely the tenant wants taps that actually turn off. Say character B has said he's coming along to look at renting the place, but he's actually trying to get off the streets while the police seek him out. He'll notice the open windows, assess them as both an exit and entry point. He'll notice the table, which might just be solid enough to hide behind. He'll flinch when the Character A's phone goes off, both because he's easily startled, but he also may notice that there's a siren in the background of the song. He'll be looking towards the door, listening to every car as it passes by outside. Waiting, just waiting, for one to slow down and stop.

The realtor (Character A) will also be waiting for one to slow down and stop, but he'll be listening out for new tenants, thinking about how he can rent this place to them. He might be eyeing up those who come in the house, more/or less (it could go either way) inclined to rent to someone from the same low class background as himself. He may be proud of this place, running his hands over the furniture, rapping his knuckles on the wooden kitchen bench because no place he'd ever lived had furniture made off wood - too expensive.

Notice these descriptions, and how they perform double duty. We can also see something else in this scene - the potential for conflict. Character A wants to rent the place out, make a respectable profit. Character B couldn't give a damn about profit, or the possible damage done to the place - he just wants to get away from the police.

They are not going to have the same goals if an off duty policeman walks in the door.

Close third POV (he, she, they, but staying mainly in the thoughts of the characters, a-la most of Harry Potter) operates under the same sort of boundaries, but with the ability to draw back from the effects of character POV on narrative. Close third can contain more than one POV (as can first, but it's less frequently done), and can give different perspectives within that same room.

Close third can also use a narrator. As can third POV (mostly the same as close third, but much less in the head of the character, and much more a narrator saying what's going on in the character's head than the reader hearing it directly.) A narrator is itself, another character. Whether it's an actual character (like Death in "The Book Thief"), or whether it is just the writer telling the story, it too will focus on certain characters, and thoughts, depending upon what the narrator feels is important. In our above scene, it might focus more on the possible tension between the two men, and describe the approaching off-duty policeman. In doing so, the narration is not just describing things, it's ramping up tension. Given what we know of these characters, the introduction of this third element invests us in the story. We, as readers, can guess what might happen when Character B discovers that the other prospective tenant is an off duty cop. It's probably not going to be pretty.

Omniscient works in largely the same way - it's an all-seeing narrator telling and showing us the characters thoughts as they see fit. The same rules apply - description and attention should only be given when the description matters, when it tells us something else about the characters, the story, or prospective conflicts. Every narrative description should do double, sometimes triple duty.

Narrative exposition is the same. It shouldn't be there unless it has to be there. The back-story of Character A, regarding his lower class background, matters only if it influences how he acts when the off duty cop walks into the room. The fact that Character B has a sister that he stole medication for only matters if you want the readers to feel sorry for him.

As writers, we exist not just to tell the story, but to involve the reader. We want to manipulate their sympathies, their direction of thought, what they notice. This allows us to set things up, to surprise, to engage. Narrative can be really good at doing this - don't waste words on just describing things, or giving exposition. Describe things that matter. Give exposition only when it is relevant to what is about to happen. We are situating the reader, drawing them in, and making them connect. Whatever POV you use to do this will influence that.

Happy Writing,


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Flash Fiction Challenge - More Than One Way to be Trapped.

Flash Fiction Challenge 18-01-2014

In which an android learns to let go of the man who created him. And there is more than one meaning to the word trapped.

Of the three parts columns to choose from I chose- Who: Android, Where: Virtual reality (although I also stole deep space station because only a bit of this happens in the virtual reality), and What: Trapped! (in more than one sense of the word). I hope you enjoy :)

Once upon a time, there were issues with androids. They could be snatched up by any random hacker with enough skill, turned against their masters. For a while, a cycle developed: the technology was shit, so the androids were dangerous, so no-body wanted to invest, so the technology remained shit.

I was perhaps the first not-shit one.

A child, David, built me - lonely, held apart from his peers by both his intellect and his acidity. I believe, before my living memory serves me, that he used me to indulge his sexual awakening. Part of that was an inability to deal with others, and part of that was fear. My research shows that being gay at any point in time does come easily, and his mother’s position in the military and his father’s duties on the diplomatic council did not leave much room for experimentation. We were isolated, on a station in deep space, where they’d sent him to live while they built their careers. He was already different.

“Hiding in my workshop though?” He’d say. “That’s totally normal.” He would laugh. “That workshop became my own closet.”

I am not a good judge of masculine beauty. Perhaps because he wished to distance himself from his past, and actions that he now considers vile and wrong, he wrote into me a preference for the female sex. It works out that way most of the time, although I must admit, he was still selfish even then. He did not think about who I would spend my time and life with, if not him. I am not exactly made for attracting a human mate. Even if I did find some decades to share my experiences and my bed with - I am not made to die.

No. David granted me life, consciousness, and immortality. But he was only 17 at the time, so the parameters by which I was created reflect the morals of a 17 year old boy.

I have broken some of those parameters, with his help. I find myself not wanting to break the one regarding my heterosexuality. Maybe it will change in and of itself - it is supposed to be a fluid thing for mankind.

Then again, I am not a man.


I think it was the week after quarter-year when David met Rowan at one of his parent’s parties on planet. He was an older man - a man involved in the politics of creating a translator designed to translate the tongue of the Kamiin to Standard. There are both literal was of translating, in which the meaning is not always assigned correctly to phrases, and more fluid ways of translating. Rowan was involved in working out where the final position lay.

It was not an easy job. He was not a dumb man. Which made me suspicious when he approached David.

David, or course, was David. Nervous, anxious not be seen as flirting with someone, and awkward in all respects. I suspected he was not a virgin - one particularly memorable homecoming from a night out almost certainly confirms that - but he was a virgin in areas of relationship certainly. I was not much better, but I had made friends outside his acquaintance over my five years of existence. I had listened and advised on much. I had maintained a brief relationship with a Harkian girl, before she had to return to her planet.

I have undoubtedly had less sex than David across his life, but my relationship with Ka’lika was solid. It was as deep as any six month relationship can be.

My point being that David is not really one to let people in, but when he does, he lets them hold his heart in his hands. Rowan pushed on past his acidness. He managed to argue with David without seeming either a dick, or paternalistic. I think he even managed to flirt.

Afterward, he approached me.

I was standing on the balcony, looking out at the waves. There was a port to my side, but I do not like the world of virtual reality (VR). I can access it, pilot it - it recognizes me as human - but the anonymity of the space means that I am open to verbal and physical attach without repercussion.

The virtual reality recognizes me as human, but those that occupy it do not.

“Hey.” He leaned on the balcony besides me, wrists loose and hanging. His stance was wide despite this - still ready to move if he needed to. Good.

Silence. Nothing but the smell of the sea and the occasional grit of the sand that was flung up at us by the wind.

I remained silent. If he wished me onside, he would have to speak.

“Look,” he ran a hand through his hair. “Will I create issues if I go after him?”

I frowned, and turned my head to him. “Issues?”

“Yeah, with his parents. I don't’ know how everyone else is blind, but that kid is so far in the closet it’s not funny.”

“How do you know that I know?”

“You’re acting like an overprotecting parent in there.” My mouth was open, to deliver a comeback to another line, but it snapped shut, my teeth grinding together. Parent. I’d never had someone say that.

Probably true though. In everything including the Freudian sense. I wondered if Rowan had guessed that too.

“What do you wish me to say?” Behind us, the politicians and military personal swarmed. They moved to their own beat, searching out connection and opportunity. The smell of alcohol and perfume was almost vomit inducing. “You’re a diplomat. You know how this sort of thing works.”

“No I don’t actually, I’m out. The Kamiin don’t really care about sex - it’s more about finding an appropriate match, one to fight and hold the fort with.”

“Warrior culture.”

“Sort of. It’s not always the female in the pair who gets given the ‘holding the fort’ role. So not quite the stereotype you have in mind.”

Silence. David was standing in front of his parents, his whole body ridged, but in the careful way that only showed to those who knew him. His mother chattered on, his father interrupting at point to wrap his arm around her waist, lean in, and verbosely argue the point.

I had yet to decide it this closeness too was an act, but not matter.

“I think,” I picked over the words carefully, “that if you do have his best interests at heart, you will give him time. He is not in a position where he can deal with the shit that will come with it.” To Rowan’s credit, he only twitched at the swear word. Most stare at the swearing android like the second coming. “At the moment … he has only admitted it to himself these past years, never mind anyone else except a dark hand in an alley.”

Cruel, perhaps, and Rowan flinched at my words. He would have to be able to deal with it though. Part of the shit that would come with an actual relationship was… well, the actual relationship, and David… David created a sex doll because he couldn’t figure out it’s sexuality, and then gave it life in an effort of reconciliation.

I’m lucky he didn’t make me his savant.

And that was the end of the conversation. We exchanged a few more pleasantries, and then Rowan left. We heard nothing of him in the coming weeks. I continued to grow my tree of intergalactic friends, gathering information and exchanging pleasantries, and David went back to his workshop.


He spent a lot of time in there. So much so, that I became concerned for his well being. On the second day of his self inflicted punishment - for what else could it be, to lock yourself in a room and not feed yourself - I opened up my palm, the section beneath my thumb sliding away, and connected with the locking mechanism. A half minute, maybe two, and I had the door open.

David’s workshop is a reflection of himself - neat at first glance, with everything tucked away in it’s proper place, but chaos when you happen to look closer. David himself was at the far end, by the full pane windows, strapped into a chair, his chip glowing and activated on his forehead. The port in the wall next to him was also glowing.

Okay, so he was involved in something in VR. It was still not good for a blood and flesh human to go without eating.

I reached for the control’s besides his head, and used the hand mechanism to connect. A couple of seconds, and the port flashed, and then died.

David did not wake.

I frowned, and tapped him on the forehead. His hair had grown this past month, as had his beard, to a stubble. There was no indication that he had washed either, now that I had a good look at him. He was thinner too, which was quite the thing, as David verged on waif-like normally.

I tapped his forehead again, the chip this time. It was still glowing, still activated. For a second, I thought I saw David’s eye’s flicker, then nothing.

Alright then. I would just have to go in and talk to him

I flicked the port back on, and sat down besides it. I did not need quite the mental preparation that humans need for this, so the descent into the half dream state of the virtual network was quick.

This particular port though, was surrounded by a wall. I tapped at it with my mind, grabbed at the code flying through the air, and rewrote it so as to unlock the barrier.

The code rearranged itself, and the barrier remained stubbornly locked.

I tried again, and again, getting fast and faster. The VR programming should not have been able to defeat my speed. My mind is made for processing code.

Still, nothing.

I could sense a consciousness beyond the wall. David.


I dragged myself up back into my corporal form, and fell forwards, skin hot and clammy, my hands shaking. Nonononono.

Suicide by VR is nothing new. If you stay down there long enough, you just disperse into the landscape, becoming nothing more than the surrounding code. There is nothing to rescue, only a body to place on life support until the family can decide what to do with it.

But it takes a week for a mind to get to that stage. By that time, most are normally found, and disconnected. It was supposed to be impossible to stay connected to the VR without a port.

Then again, it was supposed to be impossible to create a sentient being too.

I went back in again. As much as I loathed it, I had to try. Again and again the code rearranged itself. I came back to the world three hours later, with nothing to show apart from a sore stomach, and a headache.

I would not get him out that way. How then? How to argue with someone you can’t talk with? He would be able to sense me from in there, but he’d created that barrier to defeat me - he’d obviously come to his decision. How to…


I flashed back to that night. To David’s awkwardness, and more than that, his eagerness. Rowan.

No. I did not want to hand him over. I had protected him for six long years. He was only 23. There was no way Rowan could be everything for him that I couldn’t

A trained negotiator, a man who lived in on a planet where the nature of the relationship was more important than those in it. A man who had asked how his actions would affect David.

I activated my communicator.

“Hello, Rowan Vakinda speaking.”

I opened my mouth, and let my boy go.

“It’s Donness. It’s about David.”

Monday, January 13, 2014

Wound Care 101 for Characters

Blood Loss and Wound Care for Characters: 

As with most things, there is pretty much a sliding scale for wound severity. It stretches from "put some antiseptic on it and slap a bandaid/bandage on," to "okay, you're not going to die from blood loss, but a doctor, so stitches and an antibiotic would be handy", to "you need a surgeon to look at that yesterday."

Here's a pretty line to demonstate:

The way you look after/treat wounds therefore varies accordingly.

Before I start though, a few things that just need to be said. I am in my last year of an Emergency Health Degree, and hopefully will be gainfully employeed as a paramedic sometime next year. For those in countries where paramedics doesn't need a degree, think of it as the equivalent of a nursing degree, just specalised in pre-hospital care rather than long term patient care. I am not a doctor, or qualified in any way shape or form yet, so most of what I talk about you could probably find in a variety of textbooks. Think of me a filter. This way you don't have to read all the textbooks.

And it goes without saying that the only people that this advice should be used on are imaginary characters. This is not any type of real medical advice - if you need that, you should be seeing your GP or someone else in the flesh.

That being said, here we go. This post will focus on cuts and bleeding wounds. I might do another one on specific wounds (head wound, eye injuries, ect) later.

Given the sliding scale, there are some pretty universal treatment under pinnings.

  • Pressure
For any wound that doesn't involve surgery, this is the be all and end all. A lack of pressure = a lack of clot = bleeding. For all wounds that to involve surgery, there will be pressure applied to visual holes and tears until surgery is viable. 
  • Saline soaked dressings
There's some research onto why these work, but the general consensus is that they work well. One of the explanation behind it is that  saline (0.9%) dressing is isotonic, and thus does not the damage done to exposed tissue. The idea is that if you have an open wound, or an evisceration, or an eyeball pop out, you want to keep the tissue from drying out, and you want to prevent further damage via contact with the dressing you use to apply pressure. So gauze, soaked in 0.9% isotonic saline is preferable. You can but it from the supermarket, people use it to clean their contacts. You are using this saline soaked gauze either to protect the tissue from drying out, or as "saline packaging" - so your essentially applying pressure to an open wound in the least damaging way possible. A dry bandage goes over the top of all this.
  • Managing Blood loss
There are several ways to manage blood loss. One of those ways, as mentioned, is applying pressure and stopping the bleeding. If, however, the bleeding cannot be stopped, or there is too much blood lost, other measure are generally taken.

Basically, the body needs a certain amount of volume in it's blood vessels to keep all the good stuff circulating. If that volume drops too low, your heart won't be able to speed up enough to correct for it, and you won't be able to breath in enough oxygen to pack into what little volume you have left going around your blood vessels.

This loss of the "good stuff" (oxygen, nutrients ect) leads to debilitation and death if left long enough. So thus the volume lost should be replaced. Or you can "load" a patient up pre-emptively if you think they're going to loose a lot of blood.

There are several liquids used to do this. The one's I'm familiar with are isotonic saline and blood. Regardless, the principals are basically the same: If there is not enough volume of liquid in a person's veins to move all the "good stuff" around, you replace that volume via an IV drip. Thus you increase that volume, then "good stuff" can move where it needs to go, and everyone's happy.

Well, not entirely. Fluid replacement is contentious. Everyone agrees it should happen, but when it's not blood you're using to replace the blood you've just lost, there are all sorts of argument about how much fluid should go in and when it should start to go in. Internal injuries are also difficult, because internal bleeds release blood into the body cavities - if you can't stop the bleed, than all your fluid replacement isn't going to do much, as whatever you put in will end up coming out through that same internal bleed that you can't do anything about.

And at the end of the day, anything that's not blood only really buys you enough time to get to the surgeon. Depending on the injury, sometimes blood can only buy you enough time to get to a surgeon.

So, some guidelines. Here's our scale again:

Let's call this side "Injury A"                              This "Injury B"                                And this "Injury C"

If your character has injury A, your main issues are going to be pressure, pain relief, and infection control. Whether or not you use saline soaked gauze depends on whether the injury counts as an "open wound." So you look at whether there's exposed tissue, and go from there. Pharmacy meds should do for pain relief, and topical infection control (antiseptic creams ect), should work. You should clean the wound with a dribble of water - no taps, as that will just damage the wound, dry it, put antiseptic cream on it, and then bandage as appropriate.

Injury B generally means the wound is big enough that you've lost a fair amount of blood, may need stitches, and topical antiseptic will probably do more harm then good. You don't want to damage any exposed tissue, so don't go putting creams on it. Wash it, saline packaging (so gauze soaked in saline as the dressing), pressure, and get to the doctor for for stitches, possibly an oral antiseptic if it's needed. Your character may or may not need some form of fluid replacement or transfusion.

Anything between Injury B and C is probably going to start affecting your character's conscious state. They may become woozy, there may be amnesia issues, and they may loose consciousness. As discussed before, loosing consciousness for period over 5-10 minutes is bad, loosing consciousness for over half an hour starts to imply long term disability as a result. This Injury needs all that Injury C needed, except you've got to worry a lot more about fluid replacement or blood transfusions. The patient is also probably going to need surgery, within the next hour.

So yes, I hope that helps. To define - anything over about 750ml of blood loss is significant, more than 1.5 litres and you're looking at a loss of consciousness. It doesn't take much blood loss to upset everything.

If anything in this doesn't make sense, feel free to comment. Feel free to ask questions too. I might not be able to provide all the answers, but I have access to people at university and on placement who might.