In today’s guest post, I warmly welcome author Doug J. Cooper to Marcia’s Book Talk. Doug, author of science fiction novel CRYSTAL DECEPTION, its sequel CRYSTAL CONQUEST and prequel CRYSTAL HORIZON, discusses the use of vignettes in his upcoming release CRYSTAL REBELLION, and their effectiveness in providing background and depth to characters in a story. This is very pertinent information that I am sure readers and writers will find extremely useful. For more about this subject, here is Doug with his great insights into this topic…
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Joy of the Vignette
Doug J. Cooper
Thank you, Marcia, for inviting me to your blog. I appreciate the opportunity to share my writing with you and your readers.
My latest book, Crystal Rebellion, is moving through the editing process for release on August 31, 2016. While writing the book, I learned something about myself: the joy I feel when my task for the day is to write a vignette.
These are backstory snapshots from a character’s life that afford readers insight into motives and behaviors. I get a thrill from the burst of creativity that accompanies developing these formative experiences. They tend to be very personal and revealing incidents, and so I learn something about the characters as the piece unfolds. Each vignette emerges over the course of a few hours, filling me with a sense of accomplishment at the end.
In the remainder of this post, I present three of my favorite vignettes from the new book, one for each of the human members of Criss’s leadership.
The first one is a rather dramatic example of a defining vignette. It’s about Cheryl, a tough, accomplished, and physically lovely ex-Fleet captain. As a member of Criss’s leadership, she can give him orders. And he, an artificial intelligence with the cognitive ability of a thousand humans, can provide her pretty much whatever she desires.
In this scene, she and Sid, another member of Criss’s leadership, are trying to get a brain reader to work. Their success is vital to the security of Earth. We join them in the cage where they’ve worked a long day struggling with the technology.
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When Cheryl couldn’t connect, Sid moved the chairs around the room looking for a sweet spot of maximum signal strength. Then they adjusted the settings on the ops panel in a systematic fashion to be sure they tried every combination.
Frustration grew as the hours passed. Then Sid—Cheryl couldn’t say why the comment even had relevance—suggested that she “just relax and let it happen.” He might as well have slapped her.
Beyond the fact that the statement implied that their problems were her fault, the words themselves were a trigger phrase for her.
She’d snuck out from her parent’s home when she was fourteen to meet James—eighteen and gorgeous. He started molesting her the moment they were alone and she’d fought him like a wild cat, knees and elbows swinging everywhere. Then he’d wrapped a huge hand around her neck and used those same words.
Sitting in the cage, she flashed a memory of the fear that had pierced through her as he’d leaned in for a kiss. Puke and liquor. His breath smelled awful.
And she remembered running home wondering how she would explain the bloom of ruby-colored blood on her blouse. She’d head-butted his face with her forehead, breaking his nose with a sickening crack.
Standing up from her chair, she let Sid see her ire. “I’m taking a break.”
Get it together, she scolded herself as she left the room.
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I told you! Dramatic and defining for Cheryl, creative and emotional for me to write. And perhaps one reason why she grew to become a tough, confident military officer.
This next scene is on the lighter side. It develops the relationship between Sid and Criss. As it turns out, Criss is not only smart, but also a sentient AI, which means he, too, has thoughts, motives, and feelings. And Sid, who once served as a covert warrior in the Defense Specialists Agency, now considers himself to be in the security business, with Cheryl and Juice as his only clients (Juice is the third member of Criss’s leadership, introduced next).
Sid is strong, decisive, and deadly, and he has a bit of a maturity problem, treating Criss more like a frat brother than anything else. Criss rises to the challenge as we see in this next vignette. As an aside, Criss is a master of technology, so he can appear as a projected image just about anywhere he wants.
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Criss shifted to the common room and projected himself robed in a traditional Japanese gi. Sid arrived moments later, stretched, and squared up in front of the heavy bag Criss had readied for him. Sid began a slow punch-and-kick routine as he warmed up. Criss mimicked him on the other side of the small room.
When they’d first worked out together on the bag years ago, Criss had analyzed Sid’s every twitch and tell. He used that knowledge to predict the next moves Sid would make, then he performed them first, a fraction of a second earlier.
To an observer, this tactic made Sid look like he was following Criss’s lead, and it annoyed him to no end.
Challenged, Sid began planting false signals. Criss read past the deception, but his lead over Sid decreased. Buoyed by his success, Sid drew on the same gut-level instincts that guided his well-honed intuition, except here he used his instincts in an inside-out fashion, driving behavior so random that it stumped Criss.
Now, during workouts, the two moved as one. Kick, feint, punch, punch. Jumping and spinning in one motion, they both delivered a roundhouse kick to their bag. Thwack.
“Walk me through it again,” said Sid. “And this time start at the beginning.”
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In the scene above, we learn about a time when Criss teased Sid. The tables are usually turned, however, with Sid giving Criss a hard time.
And then there’s Juice, the third member of Criss’s leadership. She is the scientist who created Criss (with help from alien technology) and is the free-spirit of the group, with no military training and no desire to learn. In this scene, she is in the process of rekindling a romantic relationship with Alex, who is first introduced into the story line in Crystal Rebellion, and we learn a bit about their shared past.
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“Oh my God, Alex,” she said, looking at a crinkled sheet of paper stuck among a collection of items. “You kept that, too?”
Using his knee for support, she stretched forward and read aloud the words scrawled in her own handwriting across the top of the page. “The laws of life.”
Years ago, they’d been at a pub in Boston sharing a pitcher of local brew and having a deep, philosophical discussion. During a spirited exchange that extended into a second pitcher, they’d crafted the three laws. Juice had acted as scribe that evening, documenting their work on a piece of scrap paper atop a table sticky with beer.
In a theatrical voice, she read the laws aloud. “One. Life is a trip, enjoy the ride. Two. Strengthen society so more can ride. Three. Don’t detract from other people’s rides.” She nodded. “They still work for me.”
For weeks after, they’d made references at work that only they understood, like, “That jerk is messing with my ride.” It had been a silly but wonderful time of sharing.
Her hand still on his knee, she turned in her chair to face him. His cheeks reddened.
Is he ever going to kiss me? she thought.
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So there you have it, special moments in the lives of the characters of the Crystal Series as revealed in the next saga, Crystal Rebellion, coming August 31. I enjoyed writing them and appreciate the chance to share some of my personal favorites.
Thanks again for hosting me, Marcia. I invite your readers to learn more about my books with a visit to my main portal at CrystalSeries.com.
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Doug Cooper Links