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 Does an Author Begin Writing a Book?

“How does an author begin writing a book?” is another of the Most Frequently Asked Questions I (and a lot of published authors) face.

Every author comes at it a bit differently. Here’s how I do it.

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The One-Liner

I begin with a one-line concept. Most of these come to me years (or in a couple cases, decades) before I actually begin writing the book.

My current concept list for future novels in the Non-Compliant Space series, beyond the starting trilogy, looks like this:

  • what Molloy did next
  • time travel murder adventure
  • blockchain dystopia
  • the founding of Interstellar Science (Mai’s story)

(That last one is one of the concepts I’ve had in my head for literal decades; I started thinking about that one in 2001 or so.)

Character and Conflict

From the one-line concept, I decide who the main characters are, then start kicking around possible central conflicts.

For me, central conflicts always arise from who the main characters are. Whatever the plot ends up being in “what Molloy did next,” for example, is going to depend entirely on Captain Molloy’s attitude and behavior toward the central conflict. So we already know it’s going to be snarky and prone to flying off the handle for reasons no one talks about.

“Time travel murder adventure” already has a cast pre-determined by the first four books, and given who the cast is, I expect most of the plot in this one to be interpersonal shenanigans.

“Blockchain dystopia” has no characters at all so far, which means it’s fair game to fold into any of the other options so far. I can’t see Molloy caring at all about a blockchain-based dystopia, however, so it’s probably not going to feature as the central conflict in “what Molloy did next.”

Outlines and Suchlike Discontents

Once I have some idea who’s involved and how they’re going to react to the central conflict, I start outlining.

The first outline is usually a page long-ish paragraph summary of the main plot. If I manage to work up any sub-plots at this point, they get their own paragraph.

From here, I turn to the beat sheet method outlined in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat! I write messy paragraph summaries as needed until I have some idea how the plot fits onto the beat sheet. This is the point at which sub-plots usually work themselves out for me; not only does the beat sheet explicitly leave space for them, but this is also where I see how they feed into the long decline from the Midpoint to the Dark Night and how they’re essential to the Finale.

Once I have characters, a plot, and a sense of the beats, I can start drafting.

More Scribbling

I typically start each beat with several paragraphs summarizing what happens in that beat. Each paragraph is a scene. If I need to extend this ahead two or three beats, I do.

Then I write the scenes. If I get stuck anywhere, I go back to freewriting paragraphs until I get unstuck.

I repeat this process until I’ve written all the scenes and put them in order. That’s the zero draft.

Almost a Book

Then I retype the entire zero draft into Word. That’s the first draft.

Then editing, a process that, like sausage-making, is best left undescribed.

At some point in this process, I may or may not put on pants. The pants-wearing phase is optional (at least until I have to talk to another human being in meatspace).

The process of finishing a book is somewhat different from the process of starting it. I’ve covered that in detail elsewhere on this blog, including this detailed three-part description of my actual writing process.

But that’s how I start.

How I Wrote a Novel in 10 Months With Untreated ADHD, Part 3: The Notebook

Part 1, I talked about how I organize my schedule, or when I write. In Part 2, I talked about my workspace, or where I write.

Now let’s talk about how.

ADHD III

Part 3 is the story of the heart of this entire operation: The Notebook.

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“The Notebook” makes it sound portentous, like I spend hours searching for just the perfect vessel to hold my Great American Novel(TM) and I might die without it.

Not going to lie: I went through that phase, in my late teens. I still have the two Moleskines I filled back then. But it was only about eight months before I realized that putting The Notebook on that kind of shrine was actually making it harder for me to write.

These days, I use single-subject college-ruled notebooks I pick up during the back-to-school sale at my local big-box store for about $0.25 apiece. I buy at least a dozen every year, and I keep the unused ones within easy reach:

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Back in the days before I published the vast majority of my work on the Internets, I filled a notebook a month. These days, it takes 1-3 months for the same amount of handwriting.

The used ones occupy several different shelves. This photo is the central repository but by no means the only one:

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Once, in 2009, I went through all the notebooks I’d filled since 1998 and broke them down, discarded everything I thought wasn’t “useful,” and put the rest in a giant three-ring binder. I have regretted it ever since, which is why I will not be repeating the process anytime soon.

It took me quite a while to make the notebook work for me. I loved it from the start as a writing tool, but like a lot of folks with ADHD, I really didn’t grasp how to make it work as a planner and an extension of my memory. For years, I juggled The Notebook, notebooks for work, notebooks for school, a day planner, a to-do list, you name it.

I tried a Franklin planner. I tried OneNote. I tried bullet journaling. And it all made me even more confused.

Then, while browsing the Intertubes one day late in 2015, I stumbled across a system that was far simpler than keeping a bullet journal. The blogger I read this from claims to have learned it from a Japanese businessman he was sitting beside on a flight once.

I just know it works for me. Here’s how:

The very first thing I do with any new notebook is flip to the back side of the final page.

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Here, I write the major categories of stuff in the notebook, and make a little “tab” by blacking in the edge. I like to space my categories widely because it makes the tabs easier for me to find.

Often, I’ll start with the first thing going in that particular notebook. This one, for instance, has outlines for Nahara and The Ambassador on the first few pages, so the top tab is “novel.” The first not-novel page I used had a to-do list on it, so that went under “personal and journal.”

You can tab as many things as you like, or as many as you have lines for. In theory, you could also flip to the second to last page and tab again in different colors, too. I rarely have more than five tabs in any notebook, and these four are always on the list.

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Each page then gets a corresponding tab. Here are the first three pages in this notebook, all of which are outlines.

(I am sorry to report that the rumors are true: Nahara does not feature fully automated luxury gay space communism.)

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Every time I start a new page, it gets a new tab. This is the page I started for the outline for this blog post series.

I love this system for two ADHD-y reasons:

  1. It cut me down to one notebook. Much harder to lose, especially since it lives with my wallet and keys on my desk. (Not impossible to lose, though, which is why my name and email address are always on the inside of the front cover.)
  2. I don’t have to care what order the pages are in anymore. I used to juggle two notebooks because I cared about page order. A lot. I hated having a to-do list pop up halfway through a chapter I was drafting, for instance. I found it super distracting.

Now I don’t have to care, because every page has its tab:

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I also appreciate how the tabs help me see where my time went over the past month or two. This notebook, for instance, makes it obvious that I spent a huge chunk of time on marketing and “outside” writing smack in the middle of it, taking a pretty obvious hiatus from the novel to do so.

Those chunks, btw, include both the pieces I submitted to Spoon Knife 3: Incursions, which you’ll all get to see in a few months.

Here are two pages from the draft of Nantais:

 

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When I sit down to write, I date the margin, just because I like to see my own progress. I tab each page as I start it. Notes about things I need to go back and fix, scenes that are relevant to this scene, or character background I don’t want to dig into here but that I’ll need for consistency later on all goes in the margin as well.

My goal, in my nightly two hour writing slot, is 350 words. That’s it.

They don’t even have to be story. If I’m particularly stuck on the story, I’ll spend time sketching what could happen next, or working out character motivation, or detailing someone’s history or mythology. As long as it’s related to the novel and written with the intent of helping me get unstuck, it counts.

After the Notebook But Before Editing: The Typing Stage

Approximately every ten pages, every chapter, or just when I’m starting to get a little lost as to what the heck happened to get me to this point, I’ll take the handwritten draft and type it up. But the first draft of all my fiction is always written longhand.

 

The reasons are a mix of practical points and straight-up “I like doing it this way so there”:

  • I find the Intertubes distracting as heck. “I went to look up one thing and eight hours later I realized I had 422 Wikipedia tabs open and also it was Tuesday” isn’t a meme; it’s literally my life. If I drafted on the screen, nothing would ever get done.
  • I revise as I type. The first typed draft is always my second draft. Rewriting the entire draft this way allows me to address a lot of mistakes and clunky text. It also lets me do things like write “[nearby star with habitable zone]” in the draft, then Google that when I get to the typing phase, saving me from the Wikipedia hole.
  • I feel free to screw up. Since I know no one will ever see the handwritten draft, I can cross things out, rewrite entire sentences mid-draft, draw giant arrows to move pieces from one place to another, and write things like “FIGHT PIRATES, DO A SCIENCE” or “THIS BOOK DOESN’T EXIST WTF IS HE READING” in the margins (two comments that actually exist in the margins of the handwritten draft of Nantais).

…And, perhaps most selfishly but also most importantly, I just like the way it feels. I like the feel of writing and the look of my own handwriting covering pages and pages of notebooks.

Writing longhand greatly increases my joy in the process. It feels like making something. And that’s really the only reason I need to do it – and the reason I never insist other people do it the way I do.

The whole point of the entire system is to move the crap out of the way in order to find the joy in the work.

Ironic twist: While starting Ritalin has changed my life with regards to my work, my relationships, my ability to eat and sleep, and the general orderliness of my house, it has actually made fiction writing harder. I don’t write on Ritalin. I wait till it wears off first.

Why? I’m still trying to pinpoint the reasons, but the biggest one appears to be that having everything on the whiteboard of my brain at once, while a major challenge in ordinary life, is actually exactly what I need in order to keep track of all the moving parts of a story as it unfolds.

I wrote Nantais before I ever started Ritalin, and now that I have, I only write fiction after it wears off. Go brain!

Part 2: The Workspace
Part 1: The System


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