Tag Archives: writing

Info dumps…and how to avoid them

I don’t usually pontificate about the writing process as I don’t feel qualified to do so, but as a sci-fi writer, avoiding info dumps is a daily hazard, so I thought I’d share.

But what is an info dump?

As the name suggests, info dumps are big lumps of explanatory text that refer to either the background of the story or the past of the characters.

When info dumps refer to the background of the story, they can include copious descriptions of the political, historical, biological, philosophical or cultural underpinings of the ‘world’. In contemporary stories, much of this world building can be taken for granted. We all know what a light switch is, or a four wheel drive [car], or a computer, so we can reference these known parts of the world without having to explain them. In science fiction and fantasy, however, everything in the world is new, so there is very little common ground between what the reader already knows and what exists in the make-believe world. As such, information about the world is a necessary part of the story. The question is…how much?

Something similar applies to background information about the characters. We need them to be well-rounded, three dimensional people, but real people have pasts. They don’t just appear in the world, ready made and raring to go. They have baggage, and that baggage has made them who they are at the start of the story. Yet as with the world building, how much do readers need to know, and how should they find out? Constant flashbacks can become very boring, very quickly.

Nevertheless, there is one person who absolutely must know every single detail, no matter how small, and that person is the writer. We need to know everything because events do not happen in a vacuum and characters need reasons to do what they do. Actually, that’s wrong; the world and the characters are not separate. They create each other. They constrain each other. They exist as a whole that is constantly in flux.

Let me give you an example. If you create a world that has only half the gravity of Earth, then the people of the world are not going ‘walk’ the way humans do. In fact, they may not walk at all because they will have evolved to suit their environment. In the same way, a world ravaged by war is not going to be all pretty and bucolic. There may be pockets of beauty but the environment will reflect what humans/aliens have done to it.

So…if we agree that information is necessary, how do we avoid presenting it as an info dump? I mean, sure, there will be some people who are so into the lore that they will enjoy the info dumps and look for more. But…you do know how few of them there are…right?

One of the saddest things I discovered during my thirteen year apprenticeship as a writer was that very little of my beloved research needed to be in the final story. Sadder still, I learned that even that little had to be presented in teeny tiny portions, around the edges of the action, or snuck in as an emotional flavouring to the motivation. Not because readers could not ‘understand’, but because they would be viewing the story from the outside.

I’ve use the words ‘viewing’ and ‘outside’ deliberately because that is exactly what happens when someone starts reading a work of science fiction or fantasy. They step into the world with brand new eyes, like travellers to a foreign country where nothing is like it is back home.

These intrepid travellers want to be there, they want to experience that newness, they want to immerse themselves in the world through the experiences of the main characters, but most of them want it to be an emotional journey, not an intellectual one. And that means no info dumps!

But how do you create a brand new world, a realistic world if you’re never allowed to talk about it?

This gets down to the how, and the how will be slightly different for every writer. Some writers, such as Martha Wells, ease readers into the newness very gently. I’m thinking of the Books of the Raksura here. The first book, although obviously not of this earth, is not all that alien either, and the main character comes across as almost human. But the world and the characters become more alien as the 7 book series continues. I enjoyed the entire series, but I think I enjoyed the later books more, precisely because they were more alien.

Another familiar strategy is to present a new world through the eyes of a human who ‘translates’ the strangeness for the reader. C.J.Cherryh accomplished this to perfection with her Foreigner series. Yet as much as I loved this series, I will always believe that Cyteen was/is her greatest work, despite the fact that it’s damned hard to read. I also have a great fondness for her Chanur series. The first one I ever read was Cuckoo’s Egg.

And then there are the stories that drop you in at the deep end and expect you to keep your head above water until you learn how to swim. Ahem. In these kinds of stories, the background of both the world and the characters is doled out a little at a time. Only just enough to explain the ‘moment’, if that. The idea is that the reader gets a feel for the world via the context.

To work, this particular type of storytelling has to provide the reader with just enough of the familiar to carry them over until the alien ‘bits’ start to coalesce. If the strategy works, the reader experiences a shift in perspective and starts to see the world as the characters see it. Deep immersion. When it doesn’t work, the reader gives up in disgust.

I suspect that all science fiction writers create one throw-’em-in-the-deep-end story because we get sick of the same old, same old and want to show that we can do better. Then we realise that readers would much prefer to read about people. Ahem.

But the all or nothing technique is an extreme way of avoiding info dumps. A similar effect can be achieved by:

  1. asking whether a particular detail is something the reader needs to know or something only the author needs to keep in mind,
  2. asking what the reader needs to know at this very moment,
  3. asking which part of an explanation fits the timing and mood of the story.

Because I love my research, no. 1 is a constant bug bear and my editing usually consists of ‘killing my darlings’. 🙂 No. 2 I find fairly easy because it’s how I teach. When people are confronted with the new, unnecessary, peripheral details just get in the way of understanding.

No. 3 however is something I still struggle with. When I start a scene, I usually have some idea of what I want the scene to accomplish, but that initial idea is rarely very good. Often it’s not until I’ve written the scene that I realise what the real point should have been. This is particularly true for characters as motivation is rarely cut and dried. In the following short excerpt, I wanted to show why Kaati thought it could get away with impersonating one of the Healers’ acolytes, despite knowing very little about the Healers or their acolytes:

‘Kaati had no desire to impersonate a Healer, but it was determined to steal one of the small starrock beads worn by their acolytes. In an eyrie teeming with Healers, acolytes were almost as ubiquitous as drudges, and far less visible…

if stories of Messenger being true

The sudden doubt made Kaati’s hearts pound, but it refused to countenance failure. Even if the Messenger had exaggerated the antics of its fellow acolyte, it would have had no reason to actually lie. Besides, it made sense for acolytes to play pranks on the Healers. Younglings always got up to mischief of some sort…

The soft skin around Kaati’s eyes crinkled in amusement as it remembered dropping a live taptoh into the Second’s gruel. The big Teller had not noticed until a small, many-legged lump crawled from the bowl.

The taptoh incident had been punished, of course, but the punishment had been remarkably mild, and it was not till much later that Kaati realised why. Stealth and cunning were the tools of the Tellers’ trade, so pulling off a prank like that would have been seen as a rite of passage, at least for some. The Second was dead, and its own journey had taken a sharp turn from the familiar, but some things never changed. Younglings were always the same, whether they were apprentice Tellers or acolytes to the Healers. They played pranks and avoided chores where possible.

So long as it wore an acolyte’s bead and looked busy, none of the Healers would give it a second glance…

Apart from the references to characters who appear earlier in the story, there’s actually a lot of background in these few paragraphs. There’s what Kaati wants to accomplish, there’s an acknowledgement that it doesn’t really know what the Healers and acolytes are like, there’s a snippet from its past, a hint that things have changed for the worse, and an intimation that it’s basing a heck of a lot on guess work. Yet I think each bit of information moves the story along in some way rather than bogging it down. One hopes

Vokhtah saga falls into the category of ‘extreme’ storytelling, but it does illustrate how much background you can sneak in while the reader isn’t looking. 😀

Whilst I enjoy reading most genres [except horror], I don’t know much about the techniques used to write them so I’d love to hear how other writers handle the dread info dump.

cheers
Meeks


Digital Housekeeping – Update July 16, 2020

Bad news for WordPress.com users – the progress bar can only be installed by those using WordPress.org. The reason? Only the paid, hosted version allows bloggers to install plugins. And the progress bar is a plugin.

How do I know? This is a screenshot from the download site for the progress bar. It shows what the plugin looks like after it’s installed:

For newer bloggers, that’s the old Admin. Dashboard. With WordPress.com you cannot add anything to the Dashboard menu. Nothing. Zip. Rien. Therefore, the screenshot must be of the WordPress.org dashboard. And that means us Freebloggers can’t use the progress bar. -cries quietly-

<<end update>>

While looking for something else entirely, I discovered a WordPress widget called ‘Gallery’. And voila! There it is on the sidebar to the right. The images are a little small, but it’s nice to be able to do something useful with all those faces!

And the gallery provides a nice introduction to the price change for the Innerscape Omnibus. In line with most other bundles on Amazon, I’ve raised the price to $5.99. This price point makes it slightly cheaper than buying each book separately, and it allows me to do ‘specials’ every now and then without having to do an exclusive via KDP.

And finally a word about the widget I was actually looking for – a word count progress bar: https://abtoolz.alanpetersen.com/wip-progress-bar/

The instructions mention that you can get this app via the WordPress widgets. That’s not quite right. It is not available on the free, WordPress.com widget page. I assume it will be available to the paid WordPress.org sites. If someone could check that out for me I’d be eternally grateful!

Still on the progress bar, there is a manual way of inserting it into your blog but I haven’t tried it out yet. If I get it to work, I’ll post a mini how-to about it. Alternately, if someone out there gets it to work, please post some instructions, preferably with pictures so we can all start using it!

Ahem, and the reason I want that progress bar is because, as Robert Chazz Chute says:

‘The meters really get me amped and moving. I don’t want to see a static progress bar and measurement gives me a sense of momentum. That which cannot be measured will not be improved.’

https://chazzwrites.com/2020/07/13/two-simple-tools-that-work-for-writers/

Like Robert, I’m all betwixt and between at the moment. Once I sit down and start writing, I’m okay, but getting myself to that point has never been this hard before. I know what’s causing at least part of the problem – that miserable virus – but knowing and ignoring are two very different things. So, I’m hoping a progress bar will give me that little bit of extra incentive to ignore the outside world and escape into Vokhtah again.

Okay, I feel as if I’ve been productive enough. Time for some lunch. Cheers!

Meeks


Digital Housekeeping

While looking for something else entirely, I discovered a WordPress widget called ‘Gallery’. And voila! There it is on the sidebar to the right. The images are a little small, but it’s nice to be able to do something useful with all those faces!

And the gallery provides a nice introduction to the price change for the Innerscape Omnibus. In line with most other bundles on Amazon, I’ve raised the price to $5.99. This price point makes it slightly cheaper than buying each book separately, and it allows me to do ‘specials’ every now and then without having to do an exclusive via KDP.

And finally a word about the widget I was actually looking for – a word count progress bar: https://abtoolz.alanpetersen.com/wip-progress-bar/

The instructions mention that you can get this app via the WordPress widgets. That’s not quite right. It is not available on the free, WordPress.com widget page. I assume it will be available to the paid WordPress.org sites. If someone could check that out for me I’d be eternally grateful!

Still on the progress bar, there is a manual way of inserting it into your blog but I haven’t tried it out yet. If I get it to work, I’ll post a mini how-to about it. Alternately, if someone out there gets it to work, please post some instructions, preferably with pictures so we can all start using it!

Ahem, and the reason I want that progress bar is because, as Robert Chazz Chute says:

‘The meters really get me amped and moving. I don’t want to see a static progress bar and measurement gives me a sense of momentum. That which cannot be measured will not be improved.’

https://chazzwrites.com/2020/07/13/two-simple-tools-that-work-for-writers/

Like Robert, I’m all betwixt and between at the moment. Once I sit down and start writing, I’m okay, but getting myself to that point has never been this hard before. I know what’s causing at least part of the problem – that miserable virus – but knowing and ignoring are two very different things. So, I’m hoping a progress bar will give me that little bit of extra incentive to ignore the outside world and escape into Vokhtah again.

Okay, I feel as if I’ve been productive enough. Time for some lunch. Cheers!

Meeks


Music for the Acolyte

Music has always been a vital part of my writing because it speaks directly to the emotional and creative side of my brain. In a very real sense, it puts the logical side to ‘sleep’. For me, that is a necessity because technical writing comes so much easier.

But finding the right music for the right story has never been easy. Until today.

I give you, ‘The Journey of a Scarecrow’, by Indie composer – Jean-Gabriel Raynaud:

The instant the Scarecrow track began to play [on Soundcloud], I knew precisely who it was for. The quirky playfulness screamed ‘Acolyte’!

Who? What?

For those few brave souls who read my scifi/fantasy novel, ‘Vokhtah’, you may remember the small iVokh who worked for the Healers in Needlepoint. The Scarecrow is its signature song.

For everyone else, here’s a short excerpt from the book that introduces the reader to the Acolyte:

The Female was fast asleep when the steady drip, drip of the timepiece was joined by the scrape of wood across sand.

It was a small sound, as was the gap that appeared between the edge of the door and its frame. The gap was just wide enough to admit two twiggy fingers tipped with blunted claws. The fingers strained at the wood to no avail.

A dull thump sounded from the other side of the door as something heavy hit the sand. Two more fingers appeared and four blunted claws dug into the wood as the fingers jerked at the door. Each jerk widened the gap a little further until persistence finally triumphed, and the opening became wide enough for a small black face to appear.

Everything about that face was small, except for the eyes, which glowed huge and golden in the soft, blue light of the chamber’s single glow-worm.

After darting a timid glance from left to right, the face disappeared only to be replaced a moment later by a small black rump. Over-sized, jet black wings swept the sand as the hunched shape of the small iVokh backed into the chamber, dragging a sloshing leather bota. The water sack was almost as tall as the iVokh itself.

Diminutive by any standard, the healers’ acolyte looked more like an iVokhti than a fully-grown iVokh. In fact, the only parts of its anatomy close to normal size were its wings, and they seemed far too large for its small frame.

The Acolyte’s lack of stature was accompanied by a corresponding lack of strength. The Junior mocked its weakness at every opportunity, but the young iVokh prided itself on never failing in its duty. Clever and resourceful, it compensated for the weakness of its body by using the power of its wings. Only rarely did it have to rely on brute strength as it did now.

Bent over the bota, struggling to regain its breath, it stiffened as derisive hoots sounded from the outer cavern.

The Acolyte’s hide took on a hot, yellowish tinge. It did not like being closed in with the female, but it liked listening to the Junior’s oh-so-witty barbs even less. Pulling itself upright with a jerk, it grabbed the leather handle of the door with both hands and pulled. Embarrassment was a powerful motivator, and the door closed quickly.

The Acolyte features in Book 3 of The Suns of Vokhtah. Unfortunately, I’m still on book 2. That means I mustn’t allow myself to listen to this new music until I’m ready to write the Acolyte’s story… -cries quietly-

I hate these games I have to play with my subconscious, but my muse is temperamental at the best of times. At least now, I have a lot to look forward to.

Anyone else play games with their muse?

Meeks


I’ve found a new, favourite composer!

Musical tastes vary, I know, and mine may not match yours, but if it does…hi new friend! 🙂

Today I want to introduce you to my new favourite composer. His name is Peter Milinkovic, he hails from Serbia, and his company is called Talekeeper Music. What could be more perfect?

I found Milinkovic on Soundcloud which is an extraordinary website that showcases the work of new and not so new composers. The link below is for ‘Unbroken’, a track with a haunting melody and uplifting ‘pace’, very Kaati-ish :

The next one is called ‘Sun’ and the graphic is soooo Vokhtah! :

-dance-

I haz new writing music! Later all. 🙂

Meeks

 


The Eye of the Spine

I have a bad cold and my brain feels like cotton wool, so rather than doing productive work, I’ve been doing jigsaws on screen. This is what I just found:

It’s a lake in the caldera of an extinct, or at least, inactive volcano. If you were to flip that image vertically and then rotate it a little, you’d end up with something like this:

Now, let’s just draw a rough outline of the lake and fill it in…

And finally, compare it to the eye of a cat…

…and…hey presto! You have the Eye of the Spine!

Many years ago, when I was working out the geography of Vokhtah, I came up with this rather crude map:

The blue blob at the top of the map [just above the label for ‘The Spine’] was my idea of how the ‘Eye of the Spine’ might look. I never imagined I’d ever find a real picture that actually looked like the eye of a Vokh! -dance-

As a quick explanation, the map is drawn from the perspective of a Vokh, one of the flying alien species in the story of Vokhtah. The eyes of both Vokh and iVokh have vertical pupils similar to those of a cat. Unlike cats, however, their nictating membrane [semi-transparent, inner eyelid] opens and closes vertically rather than horizontally.

Thus, from a certain angle, a Vokh flying high above that lake would see the shape of an ‘eye’, its own eye. Hence the name given to the lake.

I’m going to count this amazing find as ‘research’ rather than play. 😀

cheers

Meeks

 


Resources for Writers – Reddit

I have read mentions of ‘Reddit’ for so long that I should know what it’s about, but I don’t. I’ve always been too busy, or lazy, to find out. This fabulous article is going to change all that:

Social Media is the place to ask questions and make connections. As a writer, many of the magazines I publish in or authors/editors I meet are via connections on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. One platform that I also visit for this purpose is Reddit.

Not only does it give an insight to the platform itself, it provides a list of ‘sub-reddits’ [think groups] that could be invaluable, especially for science fiction writers like me. 🙂

Here’s the link to the article:

https://nowastedink.com/2019/04/05/20-useful-subreddits-for-sff-writers-by-wendy-van-camp/

My thanks to Chris the Story Reading Ape for posting about the article.

Well, it’s Saturday here in Oz, so happy weekend all!

Meeks


Active verbs, their use, and their limits

via Active verbs, their use, and their limits

Please click the link above to read the entire article. It is literally the best discussion of active verbs I’ve ever read. More importantly, it’s probably the only discussion of their limits I’ve ever read as well. All too often, fads replace craft on social media. ‘Show-don’t-Tell’ I’m looking at you!

In my not-so-humble opinion, the secret to good writing is to get the balance right. Non-stop action becomes boring after a while because there is no contrast. In visual terms, think of an image painted in nothing but black, charcoal and dark blue. Non-stop navel gazing suffers from the same affliction, as do sentences constructed of nothing but ‘action’ verbs.

The English language is incredibly rich, both in terms of vocabulary and grammatical forms. They’re all there to be used…when appropriate. A good craftsman would never throw away a perfectly good tool just because it’s no longer ‘popular’. The real trick is to become that good craftsman. 🙂

I don’t reblog often, but when I do, it’s usually a post or an article that I want to remember. Because it’s important. This one definitely falls into that category. 😀

cheers

Meeks


Learning to write fiction…

I wrote this piece for myself, back in November of 2010, almost exactly three years before I finally published Vokhtah. I was struggling and trying to work out why [Vokhtah began as a story for Nanowrimo 2004].

Although we all write in different ways, the struggle can often feel the same. I hope this helps someone get over the hump and keep writing.

Insights into writing

The first flash of inspiration is like seeing scenes from a movie that someone has cut and scattered like a moving jigsaw puzzle. Some of these pieces of the movie are quite lengthy and give hints as to character, motivation, culture etc. Others are small and cryptic and give little indication as to where, or even when, they fit into the overall flow of the movie. The only things these disjointed scenes have in common is that they are very vivid and give you the feeling that the story will be worth teasing out.

So you start writing. First you try and reproduce in words the visual and emotional events of each scene. Then, as you become more and more immersed in the unfolding story you attempt to connect up the dots. Sometimes these connections pop into your head very easily, in much the same way as bold, distinctive elements of a jigsaw puzzle make it obvious that they should be connected, but most of the time you fill in the gaps with more or less logical possibilities that will allow you to get from one vivid scene to the next.

Unfortunately these logical possibilities are almost always a ‘fudge’. Again, using the jigsaw puzzle analogy it’s like trying to work a puzzle without having a reference picture to tell you what should be there. So you end up connecting up all the blue or bluish bits in the hope that they are all part of the sky. As anyone who has ever struggled with a jigsaw puzzle will know ‘blue bits’ can also belong to pools and ponds and clothing and children’s toys. So these connecting bits are rarely right however they do serve a necessary purpose – they bring the picture into clearer focus and eventually highlight the missing parts of the story in negative.

So you keep on writing in flashes and eventually you end up with a plot, of sorts, and some characters and even, if you are lucky, some motivation and background but it is still very sketchy. Yes, the story hangs together, just barely, but when you re-read it the clunky bits become painfully obvious and the fudges shriek ‘contrived’ and the characters lack depth. As for the background and all those things that add texture and context to a story, they’re just not there. Your first draft is finished but you don’t like it very much. Those first, vivid scenes may be good but overall, the story sucks.

Enter the first edit. For me this usually begins after re-reading page one. I always have trouble with openings, perhaps because the vivid bit that got me started in the first place actually belongs in the middle somewhere instead of at the beginning. Dissatisfied with the opening I try and massage the prose but I am a storyteller rather than an artist who paints with words so this massaging really only accomplishes one thing: it forces me to acknowledge where the problems lie and what vital things are missing.

Now some people read wholly and solely for the story, skipping all the descriptive bits so they can get to the next ‘event’. I have to admit that I’m a bit like that myself however the best books I’ve ever read have been the ones so rich in texture and detail and personality that they force me to slow down. These books make me want to read every word so that I don’t miss any part of the amazing world that is unfolding. These books also make me want to know the characters, find out what makes each one ‘tick’. In these books each character, even the minor ones, has a distinctive, individual voice and feel. The physical appearance of characters in a book are important but nowhere near as important as they would be in a movie because in a book you get to identify them from the inside so how they talk and think, how they express emotions, quirks of body language and far more vital than any mere physical description. When I read I need to identify the characters and identify /with/ them.

Some writers can achieve this depth of characterisation without even appearing to try. Storytellers like me have to work at it and the only way I know how to do it is to see them within the context of their world.

Enter Edit no. 2. This is usually where I start to ask what it is about the character that makes them who and what they are. I start to type notes. Sometimes these notes relate directly to a particular character but often they are little insights into what sort of world organization my story has to have in order for my character to have developed the way they have.

More broad brush strokes – backstory, history, culture, tech, and let’s not forget politics. Out of all these small insights I start to get a much clearer picture of who my characters are and /why/ one developed this way and the other developed in a totally different way.

Again I start fitting the pieces together only to discover that much of this backstory should /not/ be written because the characters themselves take it all for granted and I don’t like stories with a disembodied narrator.

Enter Edit-the-next. I know I want to bring out this textural detail but I want it to come out naturally, to unfold as part of the greater picture rather than as a series of dry lectures. So again I start to edit, this time adding scenes that will allow me to develop both the characters and the background in an intuitive way. Usually this means a massive restructuring of what I’ve written; bringing in new characters, fleshing them out a bit, allowing them to fill in some of the missing bits.

Around about now I realise with a sinking feeling that my simple little story is either going to be one impossibly massive book or…a series. I seem to be fated to write three books more or less at the same time.

Once I realise that I’m dealing with a series I’m hit with the realisation that many scenes I’ve jammed in willy nilly because they had to be told would be far better  placed in book 2 or even book 3.

This is when the storytelling task becomes so daunting, so huge, so much damn work that my mind goes blank. The creative juices stop flowing and I find myself unable to continue.

I take a break. I don’t write anything for a day or two. Then life intrudes and the days become a week. Suddenly a whole month has gone past without me writing a single word, or even /thinking/ about writing. With a sinking feeling I recognize that a fallow period is upon me.

Fast forward six months to a year. I’ve been getting a restless feeling that my life is empty. I know what I’d like to do to fill it but…will the words come? Will I have any better luck this time than the last? Will I find the creativity to finally finish this damn story?

I put it off for weeks and then something will happen that jerks me out of my nice, comfortable, non-creative routine. I get up one morning and find that my subconscious has been doing things without me because, lo and behold, it’s been thinking about some plot problem and found a solution to it. Trembling with reluctant hope I open up the word processor and quickly type up a ‘note’. It could lead to other things but I firmly save and exit. Enough for one day.

This claytons type of writing continues for days until finally, at some point I realise that I now /want/ to commit to writing again and the cycle begins again.

I am no longer confident that this cycle will produce the result I so desperately want but I’m learning to approach writing as a workman rather than as an artist. I commit to putting in ‘x’ amount of effort a day. So long as I write, or research, or edit for an hour or two every day I allow myself to feel satisfied with myself.

This may be a strange way to write but it helps me ward off the desperation and hopelessness I feel when the creative juices are not flowing like Niagara after a flood. I still haven’t finished this damn story but I am chipping away at it. Maybe one day…..

I haven’t edited this so it’s a bit raw. Apologies in advance.

cheers

Meeks

 

 


7 year retrospective

Good morning all. Apparently, it’s my anniversary. According to WordPress, I started blogging on this day, exactly seven years ago. 🙂

To be honest, all I remember about that day, and that first post, is that I didn’t expect anyone to read it. Nevertheless, I decided that if I really did need to have a blog [as all the pundits said], it would be about my passions rather than just ‘marketing’. So I dusted off my soapbox, hopped on and let rip about climate change.

Sadly, little has changed between then and now. In case you’re interested, this is my very first post, dated December 29, 2011:

# # #

When I first started writing science fiction, I was aware of climate change, but I blush to say I did not take it very seriously. I assumed that global warming would be ‘fixed’, like the hole in the ozone layer, before it could become a genuine cause for concern. Oops…

Fast forward ten years and climate change is one of the hottest topics in the media. Thanks to Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, climate change has become a part of mainstream consciousness. Yet despite multiple summits – Durban being the latest – and enough talk to float a thousand zeppelins, we seem to be further from a genuine solution than ever before. Everyone knows that the world should move to a low carbon economy, but no-one wants to suffer in the process. Understandable, but just a tad short-sighted given how much suffering there is likely to be if we don’t.

So who are the protagonists in this tragic comedy? Well, in terms of sheer numbers, ordinary people like you and me are at the top of the list. We don’t understand the science – no surprise there – so we only know what the media choose to tell us, and the media are having a field day playing both sides against the middle.

On the one hand they are gleefully telling us about island nations like Tuvalu that are already beginning to disappear beneath rising sea levels, but on the other hand, they are also telling us that scientists are divided about whether climate change is real or not.

To keep the pot boiling, the media give equal air time [and validity] to crackpots  like Lord Monckton who know less about the science than I do. They also keep us guessing by all the things they don’t say. For example when they talk about dissent in the scientific ranks they fail to mention that most of the dissenting scientists are not in the climate change discipline.

However the strangest aspect of the media coverage, is their lack of interest in ferreting out who is paying whom to say what.  I have yet to see a single mainstream article that names climate change skeptics who are paid thousands of dollars per day to ‘consult’ with the very industries that have the most to gain from raising doubt about the science.

These industries  [petroleum and coal spring to mind but they are not the only ones] are using the exact same tactics that Big Tobacco used so successfully to drag the smoking ‘debate’ out for thirty years or more. They are funding genuine scientists, as well as those with no credentials whatsoever, to raise doubt in the minds of governments and ordinary citizens alike in order to delay action on climate change for as long as possible. These delaying tactics translate into profit for them, and helpless confusion for the rest of us.

And the media either can’t or won’t report it.

I am realistic enough to know that libel laws make this kind of reporting difficult, however I can’t help thinking that a certain amount of editorial gagging is also going on. After all, the media is now run by a few, very large, very powerful media barons who have connections to other equally powerful corporate players, and all of them have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo [business as usual].

Little wonder then that ordinary people are confused. But what of governments? Surely they should be better informed than we are?

The problem with governments all over the world is that they are run by politicians who have all the same failings as ordinary people. Some are stupid, some are greedy, some are self-centred and ambitious, and some are simply short-sighted. They know that climate change is real and they know that hard decisions will have to be taken if we are to avoid the worst of the consequences climate change will bring, but they are afraid of what will happen now if they try to do anything. Millions of people are already out of work, and the industries that used to employ them are tottering on the brink of collapse. Surely now is not the time to slap them with a carbon tax. Surely now is not the time to insist that they clean up their act. Surely now is not the time to rock the boat.

Or is it?

Perhaps I have spent too long playing with plot lines, but it seems to me that this is a perfect time for Darwin’s theory of natural selection to kick in. I say we should let the deadwood die instead of propping it up with financial assistance that simply ends up in the pockets of those who caused the mess in the first place.

And while the market is sorting out which companies are the fittest,  government support can be given to  all the new, emerging, low carbon industries that have been starved of funding for so long.

Let’s reward these new industries for being innovative and efficient. Let’s reward them for being lean and mean. Let’s allow them to move into the spaces left by the old dinosaurs. Let’s allow them to revive our flagging economies, and in the process give jobs to those people prepared to learn the relevant new skills.

Yes, there will be disruptions and yes, we may have to adjust our standard of living a little, but surely that is better than suddenly waking up to find that the global markets have collapsed completely because every nation on earth is threatened by rising sea levels, crop failures, famine, floods, fires, drought, disease and all the other lovely things nature can throw at us?

I love the good things in life as much as anyone, so I too I like things the way they are now. Nonetheless, if things must change then I’d rather get used to those changes gradually. And I’d rather have some choice in the matter.

– If  power production is part of the problem [as it is] then I’d rather pay a competitive price for solar panels than keep on  paying for dirty power.

– If petrol driven cars are part of the problem [as they are] then let me choose to buy a hybrid or electric car instead [which I can then charge from those lovely solar panels I put in].

– If shipping food from one end of the globe to the other is part of the problem then let me choose to eat only food that is in season and grown locally.

Adjusting to change does not have to be horrendous. Those who have money only have to change their priorities. Those who do not have money should get assistance, and most importantly re-training opportunities so they can take advantage of the new jobs the new industries will bring.

A smooth transition is possible, but only if we get our collective heads out of the sand, and only if we recognize that helping the most vulnerable amongst us is not charity but an investment in the future.

As a writer I can see the possibilities for a better, brighter future, but only time will tell whether we make the transition smoothly, or fall in a heap as a species.

As a human being I’m hoping we don’t go the way of the real dinosaurs, but as a writer I have to acknowledge that at the moment, an end-of-the-world scenario is more likely.

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Thank you to all my online friends. You’ve made the last seven years fun. I hope the next seven are even better!

-hugs-

Meeks


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