Non-Compliant Space Character Descriptions: A Resource for Fanart

This tweet floated across my feed yesterday:

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Tweet by @VickyCBooks. It reads, “proposal: authors keeping character descriptions on their website so fanartists can have a reference even if they don’t have a copy immediately on hand. pls i beg u”

I immediately retweeted it with the promise that I would do this for you, my beloved fans. I will describe characters for you.

This list is alphabetical. It’s ongoing, but also probably always incomplete. If you need a character description that’s not here, drop me a line in the comments!

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Aqharan Bereth

Voldemort, if Voldemort were creepily handsome instead of just creepy. Bereth is tall (about 6’5″/196 cm) and fairly thin; his shoulders are a little too broad for the rest of his frame. Despite this, he doesn’t move as if he’s top-heavy, but rather like he’s been a professional dancer his whole life.

He has a long face, black hair that reaches to mid-back, ears that are pinned back slightly, and his eyes are a little too far apart. They’re blue. Blue blue. The kind of blue eyes that appear too often in bad fanfiction. Mid-May Mediterranean “nothing that blue actually exists in the real world, I must be hallucinating” blue.  “I will stab your soul” blue. However blue you’re planning to make them, make them bluer.

You know how Angelica can’t stop singing about Alexander’s eyes in Hamilton? Like that. Your impression of this man should be “he can and will kill me with his gaze, and I will let him. I will die happy contemplating these eyes that should not exist. Stare at me, senpai.”

His entire family, and all Rehhn, have skin that ranges from Cardassian gray to paper/snow/icing-sugar white. It’s also pearlescent. Yes, they literally glow.

He tends to wear monochromatic, minimalist suits that are of course made for him. He favors grey tones or muted blues. No embellishments – no buttons, rickrack, etc. People should wonder if he’s sewn into his clothes every morning or what.

Aqharan Mazereth

Mazereth is shorter than her father Bereth, but not much – about 6’2″. She has his too-broad shoulders, but on her they make it look like she’s basically a rectangle and her “curves in all the right places” (and she has curves in all the right places) were pastede on yey.

Her face is more square than round, and her eyes, rather than being “this blue is clearly fake” blue, are “I think they call this color ‘gunmetal'” grey/blue/purple. Her hair is also black, but a slightly warmer/more brown-toned black than her father’s, and it reaches nearly to the small of her back when it’s loose, which it never is.

She favors severe updos and painfully of-the-moment dresses, with heels, in an attempt to make herself look older than she is (she’s about 27 in Earth years). Most of her wardrobe is black, white, red, forest green, or royal blue.

Cordry

Senior Engineer Cordry is 24 years old with an incredibly lanky build – all limbs, no curves. Cordry has hair the color and texture of cornsilk, in an inch-long cut that’s never quite even all the way around, being self-administered. Eyes are hazel-ish. Ears are a little too big for the face. Cordry’s skin tone is very pink even for a white person.

Entire wardrobe is “cargo” – cargo pants, cargo jacket, and so on, along with basic t-shirts in various colors, and always looking like Cordry got dressed in the dark. Everything’s a little too big, which obscures any curves Cordry may or may not have.

Special Agent Quincey Dillon

Medium. Medium everything. Whatever the median human [attribute] is, that’s Dillon. Dillon strikes the viewer as someone who is so utterly the median human that he should not exist. In fact you’re not even sure “he” is the right pronoun.

Favors three-piece suits in shades as medium as his skin tone, with flamboyant ties or those floppy bow-style ties that you see in pictures of Oscar Wilde.

Ideally, all images of Dillon will be generated by feeding billions of photos of human faces to an AI and asking it to generate the median human face. Every result will be equally accurate.

Hayek

Hayek is about 6’5″, big-boned and strongly built but going slightly to seed. The kind of guy you would ask, “Dude, did you play football?”, except the perpetual scowl on his face kind of makes you not want to talk to him at all, in case he answers by punching you in the face.

Hayek’s ancestry is Latino/Hopi; in him they read as “generic Brown dude.” Lips are thin, nose/ears are a little too big and eyes (brown) are a little too small for his face; his nose has definitely been broken and not properly set at least once. His hair is black, but in that phase where it’s interspersed with gray so that it looks either black, charcoal, or salt and pepper depending on the lighting. It’s in a “high and tight” military cut, which doesn’t suit him. He’s not a handsome dude, but there’s something appealing about him when he smiles, which isn’t often.

Always wears combat boots, cargo pants, a basic t-shirt (black or white) sometimes with the sleeves cut off, and a large olive-colored Kevlar-plated jacket. Also always has at least one gun.

Lang

Erin Lang is 19 and is built almost exactly like Cordry, except her hair reaches past her waist (she can almost but not quite sit on it), her eyes are blue (regular blue), made larger by her choice of makeup, and her skin isn’t quite as pink as it is generic white girl. Her ears are quite small and she has a button nose. She has visible curves, unlike Cordry, though this is probably due more to how she dresses.

Lang prefers jeans and t-shirts or sweatshirts, most of which are random graphic tees, often relating to places she has never been or schools she has never attended. She has an oversized olive-colored field jacket of the type commonly found in Army surplus stores, with lots of pockets. Her whole wardrobe looks like she’s assembled it on the run from random thrift stores. Her hair is always worn straight down her back, without bangs.

Lang and Cordry are not actually related, but they look like they could be.

Makkarah Alatwi (Twi)

Twi is a young adult (around 25-30 in human ages), about 6’6″ tall and 300 pounds. There’s not a straight line anywhere in her build except the slope of her nose, which is basically a right triangle. Her eyes are gold; her skin is bright blue – not as bright as Aqharan Bereth’s eyes, but much that same Mediterranean sky color. (Devori skin tones range from royal blue to faded blue-grey, so she’s right in the middle.)

Her hair is the same color as her skin, but streaked with red and gold. The red is natural, the gold is not. She has a sprinkling of bright red freckles across her nose and cheeks.

She wears nondescript slacks or scrubs without embellishment, long-sleeved scoop-neck shirts, and a white lab coat that pulls downward at the shoulders because the pockets are so overstuffed.

Molloy

About 5’4″ and 160ish pounds. I imagine her looking like Mae Jemison, only stockier. Molloy is built like a rectangle and gives the impression that she doesn’t use doors – she just walks straight through the wall. (In fact she has a giant soft spot for little kids and surly a-holes down on their luck, like Hayek.)

She’s 45 at the time of the first book. She dresses like Hayek, only with fewer weapons and a non-armored jacket.

(A note for fan creators: Molloy is a straight-up lesbian. She has never had Those Feelings for a dude in her entire life and she never will.)

Niralans (like, all of them)

The first thing to understand about Niralans is that every single one of them has the same basic face. The Niralan face is round, trending toward oval but not quite, with high cheekbones, a small nose and ears, medium-full lips, and eyes that are slightly larger than expected (with a third eyelid that fully retracts when they’re awake, unless they’re ill, similar to a cat’s), and way too many eyelashes. Skin tone is flat white, like standard flat latex wall paint.

What differ are hair tones, eye colors, the pattern of the kiiste (the black lines that cover the right side of the face and body), and heights/weights, which are influenced by their upbringing to a much larger degree than humans’ heights/weights are.

Nantais: Hair is true black and so are her eyes, with no clear difference between the iris and the pupil. Kiiste consist of four lines that converge and diverge in a twisting pattern across the right side of the forehead, merge completely at the outermost edge of the right eye, and diverge again across the right cheek and jaw and down the neck.

  • Dar Nantais is about 5’3″ and 120 pounds, mostly muscle. She has little in the way of curves; she’s built like she was born to spend her life crammed into small spaces. She’s most noticeable among Niralans by the way her face always looks tense. She wears utility coveralls or jeans and tank tops (usually black).
  • Koa Nantais is taller, about 5’6″, and 130-140 pounds, with considerably more curve (and less relative strength) than her cousin Dar. She moves like she’s not only completely comfortable in her body but enjoys causing pantsfeelings in others. Unlike most Niralans, she loves color and wears a lot of it; she’s very comfortable in full-length dresses. Koa smiles a lot. It’s not always friendly.

Nahara: Hair is blue-black; eyes are navy blue. Kiiste consist of three lines that otherwise look very similar to Nantais’s.

  • Piya Nahara is about 5’6″, barely 110 pounds; she looks bony and underfed, and her cheekbones and eyes are especially prominent. Until the end of Nahara, she never wears anything but a sleeveless black dress with two large pockets that looks like a potato sack.

Niralans get more white hair as they age. Until middle age (about 100 in Earth years), their hair is entirely black; as they get older, more white strands begin to appear, until the hair is completely white around age 175 or so.


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How to Write an Essay Fast

Every semester as a college English instructor, I had students who were SHOCKED, SHOCKED I SAY that the deadline for a major paper had snuck up on them without their realizing it.

College does that to you: You’re busy with this assignment and that reading and this club and that sport and this roommate and that party, and pretty soon, you have a 10-page essay due November 11th or April 23rd, and what do you mean that’s tomorrow?!

A professional could bang that essay out in an hour or two. But you’re not a professional (yet). If you were, you wouldn’t be in college. Or high school. Or wherever it is that you’re stuck with a giant paper to write and a looming deadline.

I’m not going to show you how to write that essay like a professional would. I am, however, going to share a method that will allow you to write a passable essay in about the same amount of time it would take a professional to write an outstanding one.

A Note: This method will not turn out a good essayby which I mean “an essay that uses the craft of writing itself as a means of persuasion.” It will merely turn out a competent essay, by which I mean “an essay that demonstrates that you read what you were supposed to read and learned something from reading it.”

Consequently, I do not recommend this approach for essays due in English or technical writing classes – the classes where you’re supposed to be learning the craft of writing. Nor do I recommend it for written works that must follow a specific structure, like lab reports or legal briefs.

If you just need an essay that demonstrates you read some things in the field and had a thought or two about them, however, here’s how to get it written fast.

essayfast

Step One: Assemble Your Research

Your research is done, right? If not, you have a problem this blog post can’t help you solve.

If your research is done, get all your notes together in front of your face. It doesn’t matter whether you made them on notecards or in a Google Doc or on cocktail napkins or by putting Post-It flags on every page of every book you want to cite. Just get it all in your writing space.

Step Two: Thesis Statement

Open a new Google Doc, Word doc, or whatever your favorite word processor is. (You can also do this on paper, but it’s tedious.)

You may have already done your research with a particular thesis statement in mind. If so, just type it in at the top of your document.

If you didn’t do your research with a particular thesis in mind, here’s how to generate one:

  • Think about all that reading you did. What’s something you can say about it that reasonable people could disagree about? Generate 3-5 such statements – things you could say about the reading that someone else could say “nuh-uh” to.
  • Choose the one that bores you the least, not the one you think is easiest to defend.

A thesis statement should always be a statement about which reasonable people could disagree. “There are four Presidents’ faces carved into Mount Rushmore” is a fact, not a thesis statement. Reasonable people can’t disagree about it, because you can all just go to Mount Rushmore (or look at a photo) and count the Presidents yourself.

“The four Presidents’ faces carved into Mount Rushmore deface a sacred Lakota site,” however, is a thesis statement. A reasonable person can disagree, for instance by saying “No, they enhance the site,” or “They’re not a defacement, they’re an example of the glory of American imperialism.” (The fact that you might disagree with every counterargument doesn’t make the arguments themselves unreasonable.)

Avoid the option that’s easiest to defend, because an easy defense makes your essay sound like you phoned it in. “The viewing platform at Mount Rushmore could be placed closer to the Presidents” is easy to defend, and for that reason, it’s super boring. It screams “I didn’t really do any work, I just don’t want a zero.”

The one that interests you most/bores you least, however, will automatically be better written because you actually care about it somewhat. It’ll have an energy that says “Hey, I did enough reading to find a topic that matters.” Do that one.

Step Three: Because Reasons

Below your thesis statement, write down a list of points that support the argument the statement makes. Avoid the urge to get too specific – you want general “buckets” or categories, not details. You can write these as sentence fragments if you like.

For example:

THESIS: The four Presidents’ faces carved into Mount Rushmore deface a sacred Lakota site.

  • the Lakota considered the Black Hills sacred ground generally
  • the Lakota named the mountain “the Six Grandfathers” specifically
  • the mountain in question actually terrible for carving
  • the monument lionizes the same white leaders who consistently undermined Native Americans’ ability to live peacefully on their ancestral lands

Then, work in a reference to your thesis statement for each fragment:

  • the Mount Rushmore carving appears in the Black Hills, which the Lakota consider generally sacred
  • today’s Mount Rushmore is carved into a site the Lakota called the Six Grandfathers, which had a particular spiritual significance
  • rather than choose a more stable site for the Presidents’ visages, the project was carried out on a sacred Lakota mountain that is actually ill-suited for sculptures
  • the Lakotas’ sacred Six Grandfathers were turned into a monument that lionizes four US Presidents who pursued harmful policies against not only the Lakota but other Native Americans as well

Finally, slap on a transitional word or phrase. Like “also,” “as well,” “in addition,” or ordinals like “first,” “second,” “third.”

  • First, the Mount Rushmore carving appears in the Black Hills, which the Lakota consider generally sacred.
  • Also, today’s Mount Rushmore is carved into a site the Lakota called the Six Grandfathers, which had a particular spiritual significance.
  • Another reason the Mount Rushmore presidents constitute a defacement of sacred Lakota territory is that rather than choose a more stable site for the sculptures, the project was carried out in a place that is ill-suited for carving.
  • Finally, the Lakotas’ sacred Six Grandfathers were turned into a monument that lionizes four US Presidents who pursued harmful policies against not only the Lakota but other Native Americans as well.

At the bottom of this list, write your thesis statement again, but say it differently. For example, “These four factors support the position that today’s Mount Rushmore is actually a defacement of a sacred site.”

Repeat this process for however many points you have. If you’re writing to a page count, estimate that you’ll need half a page for each point, plus half a page each for your introduction and conclusion. The example outline, then, is going to cover about three pages – maybe more, if you did a lot of research.

Step Four: Plug and Play

Get your research back in front of your face, and start dropping it into this outline under each point that is supported by that bit of research.

Drop in your summaries, quotes, and paraphrases with the author, title and page number attached. I cannot stress this enough. Nothing is more boring or eats more time than having to go back and fix all your citations after you already wrote the paper. Besides, it greatly increases the chances you’ll miss one and get dinged for plagiarism. Just put them into the outline, and you won’t have to deal with any of that.

You can use bullet points and sentence fragments here, too. Just put all the evidence bits where they go.

If you have a particularly weird or scandalous tidbit of information, or a fact or statistic that doesn’t quite fit anywhere else, set it aside. It’ll be great material for the introduction. (We’ll get to that.)

Step Five: Sew It Together

Once all your evidence details are in the outline, do the same thing to each of them that you did to your four topic sentences. Connect them to the topic sentence, and drop in transitions where you need them so someone who has never even heard of your topic before can still follow your train of thought. The body paragraphs are a great place to use “for example,” “for instance,” and “to illustrate” in order to introduce actual examples of whatever you’re talking about.

Take out the bullet points, start each paragraph with the topic sentence, line up all the details behind it, and end the paragraph by writing your topic sentence again in a different way. (You can leave out the transition when you rewrite.)

Step Six: Conclusion

Once all your body paragraphs are done, it’s time to write the conclusion. Start with your restated thesis sentence, then summarize the body paragraphs in a sentence or two.

For example, in our Mount Rushmore essay, your conclusion might read:

These four factors support the position that today’s Mount Rushmore is actually a defacement of a sacred site. The Six Grandfathers are a specific sacred site on sacred land. The sheer difficulty of carving them suggests an ulterior motive, particularly when the result is a sculpture of white imperialists with aggressively anti-Native American policies appearing on Native sacred land. 

Finish this paragraph with a “call to action,” or a punchy sentence intended to make your reader feel, remember, or do something with all the arguing you just did. An example here might be “Not only must similar projects be prohibited in the future, but reparations should be made to the Lakota Sioux for the damage caused to their land and culture.”

Step Seven: Introduction

Scroll back to the top. In front of your thesis statement, plug in that particular juicy tidbit of information that you pulled out of your research back in Step Four. For example:

In 1868, the Lakota Sioux were promised that the US Government would not interfere with their lives in the Black Hills. Just two years later, the US Government broke that promise. 

Connect this juicy tidbit to your thesis statement with a sentence or two that moves your reader from here to there. If you’re not sure how to do it, just summarize the points in your topic sentences. It’s okay to be really obvious about this. Remember, your reader has no idea what your argument is yet.

In 1868, the Lakota Sioux were promised that the US Government would not interfere with their lives in the Black Hills. Just two years later, the US Government broke that promise. In 1927, white sculptor Gutzon Borglum carved the faces of today’s Mount Rushmore into a mountain the Lakota considered one of the most sacred sites in a sacred land. Adding insult to injury, the four Presidents he carved all executed anti-Native policies. The four Presidents’ faces carved into Mount Rushmore deface a sacred Lakota site.

Step Eight: Cite Your Works

Finally (finally!), grab your sources one more time and put them in order on a Works Cited page, using whatever citation format you’ve been using in the paper itself. If you’re not sure how to cite something, Google it.

(In my day, there was no Google. We had to look up citation formats in print editions of the various style manuals. We also had to walk uphill both ways five miles in the snow to attend a one-room university with only a wood stove for heat, with an onion tied to our belts, as was the style at the time. “Give me five bees for a nickel,” you’d say.)

Give the paper a title, if you feel like it.

You’re done! Read it once to make sure there aren’t any obvious mistakes, then turn it in and get some well-deserved sleep while your friends pull all-nighters.


Have other questions about how to survive the research and writing portion of your education? Drop them in the comments. Keep me alive by buying me a coffee, and help your classmates by sharing this post on social media.

 

How to Work From Home If You’re Not Used to Working From Home

Today four universities in my home state announced a temporary shutdown due to COVID-19. A number of U.S. businesses are arranging for workers to work remotely, rather than risk coming into the office or commuting on public transport.

Working or studying from home takes some adjustment if you’re not used to it. I made my adjustment back in 2009, when a medical condition prevented me from leaving my house – sometimes, for weeks at a stretch.

I’ve worked from home for over ten years now. Here’s what I’ve learned about doing it successfully.

how to work from home

Create a Dedicated Workspace

It’s tempting to sack out on the couch when you’re working from home. (I’m on my couch right now.) Working where you relax, however, can have two negative effects: It can distract you from work, and it can make relaxation time feel like a chore.

Instead, create a space to work in. If you’re lucky enough to have a separate room, use it. If not, set up a desk or a card table or a corner of the kitchen. Put a TV tray at one end of your couch and use that end for work; when not working, sit on the other end.

The goal is to have a place you can do your work and store work things (papers, your laptop, etc). Choose a place you can focus on work and that you can walk away from when work time is over.

Schedule Your Work Time

Carving out a space in which to get into “work mode” is important. Carving out time to do the same is just as important – if not more so.

You may not need to stay on your ordinary work schedule while working from home, especially if you typically have a lengthy commute. It is a good idea, however, to stay on a regular work schedule that parallels your ordinary schedule. You’ll be available to co-workers and clients (see below), and you’ll be able to retrain your brain into a work/home schedule more easily.

Try to work during the same block of time each day. Alert your family that you are working and are not to be bothered. Don’t respond to things like the front door or personal phone calls while you’re working. You wouldn’t be home to answer the door if you were at the office, and you’re still not available during work hours even if you are physically home.

Communicate With Your Team (More)

One of the biggest things that surprises new telecommuters or remote workers is how much more electronic communication is necessary when you don’t work in a face to face environment.

Communicate with your boss, co-workers, staff and clients even more than you think you need to. Get into the habit of sending a check-in email at least once a day, updating others on your progress. If you lead a team, make the check-in a part of everyone’s work day.

Communication also helps maintain relationships. You’ll be able to help co-workers adjust to working remotely, and you’ll maintain the human connections we’ll desperately need should COVID-19 seriously destabilize social and economic functions.

Use Multiple Channels

To boost communication, use or recommend using multiple channels and types. Skype, FaceTime, teleconference calls, shared Google Docs, email, text, Slack, Messenger, WhatsApp, and the like are your friends in a remote-work situation.

Each of these tools performs a different role, and the combination of roles can help a team complete tasks they might struggle with on any one channel.

For example: I’ve worked with a remote content marketing team for nearly two years now. We communicate daily via Slack and email. We meet on GoMeetMe, and we work in shared Google Drive files when we need to collaborate on particular tasks.

Each of these channels performs a specific function that would be clunky over any other, if not outright impossible. Emailing documents back and forth is a nightmare compared to working in a shared Google Doc. Having voice conversations really helps us with idea generation as a team and helps us support one another (and I say this as someone who struggles with auditory processing). And I appreciate that the pet photos and bad puns stay on Slack, where they aren’t cluttering up my inbox.

We have more tools and channels for communication at a distance than we have ever had before in human history. Apply the strengths of several to help keep yourself and everyone else on track.

Back Up Your Data – And Yourself

Automatic backups are ubiquitous these days. If you typically work with an office computer or tablet, chances are good that your company has some kind of automatic backup system in place, in addition to the ones embedded in programs like Google Drive and Microsoft Word.

At home, however, you may need to do your own backups. Keep all your work information backed up to an external drive, if possible. Use a thumb drive or an external hard drive for large projects.

In addition, it’s important to “back up” yourself. Should the worst occur and you find yourself infected with COVID-19, you may end up requiring hospitalization or at least extensive bed rest.

In this situation, you may need someone else to contact your boss, co-workers, or clients in order to let them know what has happened and how you are doing. Make sure someone trustworthy has a way to contact someone on your work team. For example, give your spouse your boss’s email address or phone number.

The goal of working remotely is to reduce your chances of contracting or passing on COVID-19. Ideally, you won’t need a backup person – but it’s best to have one just in case.

Clean Your Devices

Our laptops, tablets and cell phones are surprisingly dirty – more than your average pet toy or toilet seat. Washing your hands religiously doesn’t do much good if the first thing you touch is your germ-ridden keyboard.

I’m certain my keyboard was one of the dirty ones. I know exactly when my toilet seat was last cleaned with bleach (this morning). My laptop? I also know exactly when that was last cleaned: Never.

(Well, almost. I fixed that before I started writing this post.)

Fortunately, there are plenty of online guides to cleaning laptops and other devices. If yours has been to the office or commuted with you, clean it as soon as possible.

Walk Away At the End of the Day

Last but not least, when you’re done working at your newly-remote or newly-telecommuting position at the end of the day, leave work behind.

Leave work behind physically, by shutting down your laptop or tablet, depositing it in your workspace, and physically leaving that space (even if that just means shifting to the other end of the couch). Leave it behind mentally by focusing on other tasks, like making dinner or playing with the dog. If a work task continues to bug you mentally, write it down and put it on your work pile to deal with in the morning.

One of the great disadvantages of working from home is that it enables us to work all the time. Because we can work all the time, we start to think we should.

We should not. Working nonstop is unhealthy: physically, mentally and emotionally. If all you do is work, you can’t be fully present for your own needs, much less for those of your friends, family and neighbors – people who will need each other, and whom you will need, if things get worse.

Set a schedule that includes your quitting time for the day, and stick to it. You can tackle the next task tomorrow.

Working from home takes some adjustment, and it’s not ideal for everyone. By planning ahead and maintaining good communication, however, you can ease the transition and protect your own and others’ health at the same time.


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