Jennifer K. Oliver

Speculative Fiction Writer

Month: May 2018

Podcast recommendation: We’re Alive

Trawling through the iTunes podcast library, I stumbled upon an audio drama called We’re Alive – A Story of Survival, by Wayland Productions. It’s a zombie podcast, but before you run for the hills, hear me out. It starts off as you might expect, but it quickly becomes clear that they’re doing something a little different with the zombie post-apocalypse. For starters, it’s done in the style of a fully realised radio drama. It has an ensemble cast of voice actors and high-quality sound effects. There’s also a clever score and custom artwork for each chapter.

There are 48 chapters overall, so plenty to keep podcast fans happy. Plus Wayland Productions are still active, with a new podcast Goldrush.  Generally chapters are split into three or four parts, each part running from under ten minutes to around thirty minutes, which makes it easy to squeeze in on a lunch break, a car journey, a walk, or even just before bed.

The pros:

  • The sound effects are brilliant. Who would have thought that something that’s usually so visual—walking, rotting corpses—could be way scarier when only in audio. And these zombies aren’t the shambling, shuffling dunderheads you see in a lot of other venues. Think 28 Days Later undead who can sprint. Listening with headphones is absolutely the way to go—when you first hear the rapid thump-thump-thump of the monsters running at you, the sound growing louder and louder in your ears, it’s terrifying.
  • Like I said above, they’re doing something different with the zombies. It was one of the main things that kept me intrigued all the way through.
  • Apart from a couple of minor niggles (see below), the voice acting is fantastic and high quality.
  • The score is also very good, building tension or relief at the right moments. I can only bring to mind one instance where I felt the background atmospheric music was out of place.

The cons:

  • Sometimes the dialogue can be hokey. There are a number of cliches that could have been avoided, and at one point a character even says (narrating) that she goes on “an emotional rollercoaster”. That old chestnut. But the podcast is otherwise quite slick and while it jarred for a moment, it didn’t put me off.
  • Once in a while the line delivery is slightly awkward, and you can tell that the actors are reading from scripts. It’s never so bad that I wanted to stop listening, and generally they do an excellent job. It’s just the odd line.

If you don’t usually go for horror or zombies in particular but have always wanted to try some, this might be a good entry point. Its format sets it apart from many other horror stories out there. Plus, if it’s the blood and guts visuals you tend to shy away from, you don’t have to worry about seeing any of it here—only the squishy sounds coming from all directions. 🙂

You can find We’re Alive on TumblrTwitterYouTube and Facebook, too.

Dialogue and Why Not to Forget It

I forget about entertaining dialogue all the time and when I get to the end of a story I often feel that the characters sound flat. I get so tangled up in the many other elements of a story, like the plot and the world-building. It’s another one of those million things I’m still working hard to improve in my writing. When we write we convince ourselves we’re writing snappy dialogue because the dialogue is fast-paced, but it needs more than just pace. It needs to distinguish character, show character ticks and traits, reveal their attitudes and relationship dynamics.

Dialogue also has to sound real and feel organic, which can be tricky to pull off. The standard writing advice is to go out and listen to how people speak to each other, and pay attention to the ebb and flow of your own conversations. Doing is the best kind of research.

There was an excellent article by writer Kameron Hurley a few years ago about writing character banter, and it’s worth bookmarking: Who Cares? On the Importance of Banter and Character-Driven Narrative. Kameron says:

When I went back and looked at my own writing, I realized I was spending all my time trying to be a Serious Writer, and sorely neglecting all the humor and snark that makes life itself bearable. It was the revelation that maybe I should be spending more time figuring out snarky dialogue and fight scenes that eventually led me to write God’s War the way I did.

Sometimes we can get so caught up in something else – worldbuilding, or plot – that we forget about the people, and we forget that the world exists to make the people the way they are and the plot only exists because the characters move it.

Also, I love that Dragon Age: Origins artwork has been used in the post, because Alistair and Morrigan are wonderful examples of good character banter. Actually, I love all of the questing dialogue in DA:O.

A Sizeable Cool Link Roundup

Top 10 Gadgets From Iain M. Banks’ Culture Universe – I’m a massive Iain M. Banks fan, particularly his Culture sci-fi novels. This list breaks down some of the cool technology that exists in his storyverse, ranging from switching off pain to using knife missiles (yes, as cool as it sounds).

Why Nikola Tesla Was the Greatest Geek That Ever Lived – This was posted on The Oatmeal a few years ago, but it is still wonderful and hilarious and lovely.

When Sci-Fi Crime-Prevention Tactics Aren’t Actually That Far-Fetched – how likely is RoboCop? According to this article, fairly likely. 

“We’re now producing airborne drones that have the automated intellectual ability where they are able to pick out a terrorist and make a decision whether to kill them or not.”

NASA’s Sci-Fi Vision: Robots Could Help Humanity Mine Asteroids – from Universe Today. More sci-fi future nerdery, but an exciting prospect. So if Armageddon really does happen like in the movie, we won’t have to send Bruce Willis up there to blow it up. That’s a relief. I’m pretty sure he would insist on wearing a dressing gown.

And here’s a great website called Urban Geofiction where people create maps of fictional cities and countries. From their site: 

But they all have in common that they do not strive to create fantastic worlds with its own physical and natural laws like Tolkien did, for example. Their aim is to imagine new combinations of all variables that affect our daily (urban) life on this planet in a spatial way. 

There are many possibilities for stories here.

Lady Froggy Steampunk Gatling Gun for Dainty Death Dealing – I really want one of these. So deadly and cute! This is the James Bond tech of the steampunk 19th Century.

Considering Theme and Motif, by James Broomfield at the Storyslingers (old) blog. The blog has since moved and while it’s no longer updated you can read the past entries here. http://storyslingers.wordpress.com Here is an excerpt from James’s post:

Theme exists outside of narrative, characters, genre, time periods and language. It may never be directly stated in the story, it may only ever exist between the lines.

Your Age On Other Worlds – This is just plain fun. Fill in your birthdate and the script will calculate your age on the different planets in our solar system. Does this mean I can now tell people “I’m 0.23 on Neptune” when they ask me how old I am?

[Publication] The Machinists’ Boy | YA Sci-Fi | 4,200 words

I have a short YA story called The Machinists’ Boy out in Youth Imagination Magazine, issue 39. It’s free to read online. I’m so thrilled that one of my stories is in such great hands!

Title: The Machinists’ Boy
Author: Jennifer K. Oliver
Word Count: 4,200 words.
Publication: Youth Imagination Magazine
Summary: YA science fiction horror. Two young boys crash land on a wasteland planet, only to find they are not alone.

Cailan’s mothers were dead on the flight deck, but Sum was alive in the hull, and that was something. The ship had shut most of itself down to conserve power, leaving only enough for basic systems and the faint, rhythmic surge of pressure waves logging leaks and cracks like a struggling heartbeat.

Many moons ago I workshopped this story at two venues: Storyslingers writing group and The OWW. Thank you to everyone who provided critiques of earlier drafts. They were all extremely helpful. Find more of my published stories on my Fiction page.

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