Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Shape Shifter Gaffe: John’s Pet Peeves Number 1


Not that this is my biggest pet peeve, it’s just the first one I decided to write about. J

Have you ever read an urban fantasy story or some other sort of fiction where people shape shift into animals? Have you ever read about knees reversing direction as the person became an animal? Have you been tempted to write that into one of your stories?

For the love of biology, do not do this! It makes me want to throw the book, and if you read a little farther, it might get the same reaction from you in the future. This is because I like to share.

Do a couple of web searches. First, find an animal skeleton with the bones labelled. It can be a dog, cat, horse, wolf, whatever. Now do a search for a human skeleton, also with the bones labelled. Now, note that many of the same bones show up in both places. Do you see that bendy part that looks like a backwards knee on the rear leg of a dog or cat? That would be a heel.

If you look at the knee on the rear legs, you can see that most animals have a patella, or knee cap. The knees face forward. FORWARD!

Now that you’ve looked up and seen the differences, don’t assume four legged animals are all the same. It gets even more interesting if you look at the front leg of a horse. The equivalent of the elbow is actually up quite high where the humerus ends, and the entire lower half of the leg, what you would think of as everything below the forward-facing knee, is made up of metacarpals, or what for you and me are wrist and hand bones. It makes a little more sense if you think of the hoof as a fingernail.

Granted, a writer who is making up fantasy for entertainment purposes should not be forcibly held to rigorous scientific standards. Hard science fiction is a category of story that tries to get the fiddly scientific bits right as much as the story allows. Hard fantasy isn’t a category at all. I suspect there is a reason for this. I’ve enjoyed some stories that got their biology so horribly wrong that I suspect they never took a class, never cracked a book, never did a web search on the subject, and probably had no pets.

Still, I can’t help but think how much better a story would be if the paws were not so faux, since illogical biology can rip a reader right out of the story just as much as any other writing blunder if the reader has a little knowledge in the area where an author has skimped.

I feel better for having shared. How about you? Do you have a pet peeve that you want to share?


Saturday, August 15, 2015

DragonComet short story contest


I'm sure anyone with a significant number of stories sold will likely read this and think, "noob." :) Veterans probably don't go "squee" when they receive a little bit of recognition. I just found that a story of mine has been selected as a finalist for the DragonComet short story contest, with final winners announced at next year's LTUE conference.

I doubt you've heard about this contest unless you're a regular attendee at LTUE, a writer-centric conference held each February in Provo, Utah. It's not a big name contest. My world won't likely change much based on being a finalist. The upside is that becoming a finalist (and possible winner) puts a new paving stone in the path.

I've read quite a bit recently about how short stories are a good way to break into writing. They give you contacts, references, and in general ease your way along in the market. Not to say it's ever easy; just that it can be less difficult.

This has proven true with me. In the past year and a bit I've attended a steampunk convention (twice), Salt Lake Comic Con, CONDuit, and LTUE, have had my short story "Revolutionary" published in the anthology Steel & Bone based on another writing contest, and have made a lot of new friends. Some of those friends and acquaintances are writers, editors, agents, small press publishers, or (like myself) have recently started to take writing more seriously.

So if you're wondering whether to jump in and start writing, or if you're wondering what to do with your writing, or better yet if you MUST write and you figure you might as well make something of it, there are lots of contests out there to get you started, and many are free to enter. Good luck to you as you plow through the learning curve, no matter where on that curve you are right now.