In other news

Book 3 needs a bloody title! ūüė©

So I’ve rather got back into writing of late! It’s crazy, I don’t have a lot of time for it because of work but I’ve been getting some squeezed in, even a little at work! (Thank you tiny quiet offices!)

Sadly little of it has been book 3. Three side project quirky ‚Ķ I don’t even know what they ares ‚Ķ have been eating at my attention instead.

One is a quirky telepathic girl from another galaxy meets a young space rat (think street urchin but on starships, in spaceports, and on space stations) orphan and ‚Ķ it’s a very weird pile of twists on the old princess falls for the poor street waif sort of story. Along with a sort of reverse Cinderella or Annie if you twist your brain into a tasty pretzel ūü•®.

Another is a young half-human and half-not girl from Earth and her family fleeing the world and it’s social hostility to her existence, that of two other of their children, and none too kindly to the parents either ‚Ķ it’s poignant but it’s relatively happy and funny despite that.

And a young alien girl from an alien world joins a student exchange program by the Terran government to come to one of their worlds and attend school there for a term. I’m worried she’s going to try to start a revolution ūü§≠.

But my steam for those has waned so perhaps I can concentrate on Book 3 again soon.

I know how late it is. Exhaustion, Depression, and … Time … I work 6 days a week and at times am 13hrs or more a day spent working + commuting for said work.

But I have an interview Thursday coming for a promotion! That will mean MORE time. It’s also going to mean a chance to buy a big beautiful house (a specific one I have my eye on, to clarify), and other niceties.

And … bollox … how does one categorise and tag posts in the WordPress App these days?!

Oh found it … the the three dots, Post Settings. Makes sense.


Rant over modern series writing

(Sarah is a cuckoo‚ÄĒa breed of human-looking cryptid that‚Äôs biologically more like a giant wasp than any sort of primate, and telepathic to boot. Evolution is funky sometimes.)

Excerpt From: Seanan McGuire. ‚ÄúMidnight Blue-Light Special.‚ÄĚ iBooks.

So, at the moment, I’m rereading¬†Midnight Blue-Light Special. ¬†And it made me have to say something about why I don’t read a lot of newer series.

There are 3 fundamental approaches to series.

The Discworld Model:

This is for series like Bernie Rhodenbarr, the Rita Mae Brown & Sneakie Pie Brown mysteries, Discworld, Mithgar, and similar. ¬†In these (and Mithgar is, quite possibly, the most amazingly perfect example) the books stand alone. ¬†There’s little reference to the prior events, or they’re referenced in off-hand manner if relevant to the moment in the same way you or I will make off-hand references to our own pasts. ¬†Other than that the book of the moment is pretty thoroughly divorced from the books before and after. ¬†You can literally pick up at any point in the series and not be missing anything besides the fun of the other books ‚Ķ which you can just pick up and enjoy as you go.

The Serial Model:

This is the classic Book 1, Book 2, etc model. ¬†This is¬†Now & Forever, this is¬†Harry Potter, this is ‚Äď frankly ‚Äď most series. ¬†This is “To Be Continued” through to “The End”. ¬†Sometimes you can muddle through if you pick up part way in. ¬†Harry Potter,¬†Little House, and others aren’t nonsense if you pick up later than the beginning, but it helps. ¬†Well ‚Ķ¬†Little House might be more of a Discworld Model, now I think of it, but humour me.

The thing with these is that you write them assuming that the person reading book 2 read book 1. ¬†If you write something that was explained in book 1 you don’t explain it again, you move on because you’re not worried about confusing anyone because they read book 1 or bloody well best have done.

The Modern Model:

This is one I really don’t like. ¬†I’ve read things, namely InCryptid, that use it. ¬†But it annoys the hell out of me and the stories have to be¬†very good for me to let it slide and keep going ‚Ķ or you have to not do a very good job of it, thus begging the question of why the author bothered instead of sticking with the Serial Model (possibly the actual case with InCryptid ‚Ķ I’m not actually 100% certain).

In this you try to do the bastardisation of the Discworld Model and the Serial Model. ¬†Your books are very “to be continued”, and rely heavily on what came before, but you try to accommodate the ones who are coming in a bit late. ¬†Now, some series are a blending of these. Mithgar has Serials (duologies, trilogies, etc) tossed in amongst the larger tapestry of things. ¬†Shannara too. ¬†But series of Serials is a whole other kettle of popcorn.

I don’t like this one as a reader, nor as a writer. ¬†It’s this philosophy that your Serial should be accessible to any and sundry who walk in 5min before the closing credits. ¬†That really doesn’t work. ¬†You have to insert little obnoxious infodumps that irritate those who have been there since the curtain went up, and unless you want to make your books exponentially thicker by basically reprinting the prior book into the following books ‚Äďbuilding them into an omnibus edition as you go ‚Äď you’re going to annoy the mid-streamer who is like “well, she explained¬†this, but why doesn’t she explain¬†that?!”

There.  Was I going anywhere with this?

No, not especially. ¬†Just saying that I don’t grok the modern method of serialising and it irritates me when I encounter it. ¬†All the other crap about the other 2 methods was to illustrate what I meant. ¬†Now, back to the book; it has Aeslin Mice in¬†ūüėć

Writing advice

Yeah, I’m back on this. ¬†But it’s important.

So, when I tell people I’ve published a book I get some very odd questions, but one that comes up often is “so how did that happen?”

How¬†does one answer that? ¬†I usually go with “I went through most of a pack of paper and several ink cartridges.”

Thing is, that¬†is how it happens. ¬†I know a lot of writers, but I don’t know many authors. ¬†The difference? ¬†The former have ideas, and they write ‚Ķ a lot ‚Ķ but they never finish anything, or never put it out there when they’re done.

Some don’t want to publish, they write for their own pleasure. ¬†This is well and good. ¬†Just as there are plenty of people, some of them brilliantly talented, who paint or draw just for the pleasure of it and others who sell their work so the same should be with any art or craft; writing is no exception.

For the rest, just get to work.

Now, some myths:

You must write every day, no exceptions and no excuses!

Bullshit. ¬†This is so very much not true. ¬†This seems to be more prominent among Americans. ¬†For those in other countries, America is a barbarism where paid sick leave (or even unpaid!) isn’t always available and rather than rise up in revolution against it we developed “the American work ethic” and it’s as perverse as it sounds.

No, art suffers if you do it when you’re not up to it. ¬†Now, you must be self aware enough to know the difference between “I’m just not feeling it today” and “I really don’t want to write this scene”. ¬†The former is fine. ¬†There is no point spending an hour staring at the paper writing nothing, or in writing for an hour a few thousand words that you’ll throw away tomorrow. ¬†The latter ‚Ķ get it over with and move on.

There’s no such thing as writer’s block; it’s all in your mind!

Mmmm ‚Ķ yes and no. ¬†There can be a number of things that are preventing you from moving forward in your story. ¬†Maybe it turns out you need to backtrack and rewrite something, but until you discover that you’re stuck and you can’t move on. ¬†Maybe your dog died and you just can’t concentrate. ¬†Maybe you’re a chronic depressive and you’re having a low day, week, month, year ‚Ķ and you can’t seem to write anything or write anything you want to keep.

Writer’s block is no superstitious concept. ¬†It’s a simple lack of inspiration. ¬†It can have a billion and one causes and reasons, and it can have two billion and five solutions.

Find your solutions, but don’t let anyone tell you that all you have to do is plant your arse in the chair and write (unless, you know, that actually works for you).

You should write like … / Never use …

Just … no. ¬†No, definitely not. ¬†Proof? ¬†Look at the criticisms of any wildly popular work. ¬†I mean the stuff that¬†lasts, like¬†Harry Potter,¬†The Hobbit,¬†Alice in Wonderland, and so many many more. ¬†They break rules, some break every modern rule. ¬†Bill Shakespeare broke the rules, his contemporaries did not; who do we remember? ¬†Ms Rowling was writing in a “dead genre”, among other “writing faux pas”; who is the best selling author of all time (no Bible comments, please)?

Don’t take thou shalt and thou shalt not from any author, even the most successful ones. ¬†First off, Stephen King said to avoid adverbs, not to never use them;¬†he uses them. ¬†Thing is, it makes a kind of sense for the pacing and tone of his books, but that’d be horrid advice for Lawrence Block to follow.

I mean “thou shalt write thine own damned book” and “thou shalt finish what thou starts” and “once it’s bloody finished, bloody publish it” and so forth, those are fine. ¬†“Thou shalt find thine own voice/style”, etc. this is good. ¬†Absolutes suck, but “absolutes” are good reminders that we’re creating art. ¬†We’re not building and designing nuclear reactors here, there is no precise science to follow; this is¬†art, it’s all about imperfections, experimentation, creativity, and doing¬†whatever. ¬†Well, unless you’re trying to put out a cheap dime pulp in a hurry that’s deliberately formulaic and such ‚Ķ but that’s a complete other kettle of popcorn.

You must do X, Y, Z before you can write your novel / [blah blah blah] pay your dues …

I don’t know where to begin with this one. ¬†It’s just not true on many levels.

  1. Some people just don’t write short fiction
  2. The “examples” usually given weren’t people following a deliberate career path, they were coincidences (and if you’ll notice it’s generally the same list of specific, mostly, old scifi authors.) and leaves out the numerous examples of people who are just as famous or more-so who didn’t go this route.
  3. There’s not really a short fiction market anymore. ¬†Well, self-published, but not a “professional” short market.
  4. That “gotta write a million words” or whatever it was, wasn’t meant to be literal gospel truth and it certainly wasn’t thinking just write a million words of pure drivel. ¬†You must always be aiming for quality and somewhere in there will be mistakes and pitfalls from which we learn and grow. ¬†Read all of Sir Terry Pratchett‘s work from earliest to final (moment of sadness) and you’ll see it. ¬†Heinlein, Asimov, Dickens ‚Ķ you see it if you look at someone with a long enough career. ¬†Some start to lose their touch and so the opposite can become true as well.

In simple, and as always, to be blunt: ¬†go ye forth and write, finish what you write (unless it really is garbage, but get at least a second if not twenty-fifth opinion on that subject before genuinely trashing it), find a means to get it to the world. ¬†That’s the only sure-fire formula for success. ¬†Everything else is superstition.

I can’t be the only one, right?

So I was reading this really cool article¬†(with me it’d be #2 99.99999% of the time, the remaining fraction would be #7 in parallel universes where I’d go to things like that without having an anxiety attack).

It made me wonder:  how abnormal or normal am I for a writer?

I mean, am I the only one whose wife would have to drag her kicking and screaming to the RITAs or Hugos or Nebulas or whatevers if I were nominated (or gods forfend, actually¬†win and then have to give a¬†speech?!) to be fair I’d¬†love the excuse to go shopping at Utsav¬†and wear a super pretty dress, and would have to use an elephant tranquilliser to get my wife in something appropriate.

Not that I wouldn’t be honoured! ¬†No no no no, not that. ¬†I just don’t want all that¬†personal attention. ¬†I’d be happy, ecstatic, elated, and probably six other words starting with an E (happy should start with an E as well, damn it). ¬†I mean, hello? ¬†Authors, notoriously introverted, reclusive, anti-social, etc? ¬†What sick mind came up with the idea of a big formal (authors, in formal dress?!) party and award ceremony?! ¬†Seriously?

Proper award for writers: Announcement in paper that [Title] by [by-line] has won [Award] beating out [nominees with by-lines] in a few big papers, a lovely little mantle decoration of some kind arrives on the writer’s doorstep delivered by an anonymous UPS guy. ¬†Yay! ¬†Virtual hugs and silent clapping! ¬†No where’d I put that damned teapot?

There are no shortcuts

Sorry for the long time with nothing but social commentary, but I’ve just not had a lot of new things to talk about.

Well, not today.

My wife, who has infinitely more patience for internet discussion forums than I (mathematicians, please feel free to correct me, but infinity is how many more times than less than nothing is something, right?), was noticing how a lot of aspiring authors, especially of an age equal to or less than our own (she was born 1980 & I 1981) seem to think there’s a secret formula to a) turn whatever idea they have into a novel & b) for it to sell.

Well, I’m here to tell you absolutely free that yes such a formula does exist!! [Try to imagine that sounds a bit like the twin sister of that bearded guy on all the infomercials]

A) Sit your arse down (you may stand if desired, but it’s liable to get uncomfortable and awkward), put letters together until they form words, put words and punctuation together until they form sentences, put the sentences together until they make paragraphs, those you’ll group into chapters, and finally you gather you chapters into a novel (advanced authors can group novels into series).

B) Put it out there, and don’t give up.

That’s all you can do.

Yes, if you want to write something as, largely, ephemeral as a Harlequin Romance there’re formulae to follow and it will turn you out a cookie-cutter story quickly and you can usually get Harlequin Press to buy it. Not knocking it, for one thing some really phenomenal authors have written that kind of thing, and some if the greatest Western & SciFi stories were that. But those authors took the formula in hand and, pardon the expression, made it their little bitch; it followed them, rather than the other way around. It set the parameters of the story, but they still has a story to tell.

There’s no special trick that will guarantee you’ll finish the thing, except not giving up.

Outlines? No, I couldn’t even outline my finished work if my life depended upon it, let alone something I haven’t written yet; I don’t really have the faintest clue how. You can try it, if you like, some authors dig it and others hate it, and still others (such as myself) are mystified and intimidated by it.

Character questionnaires? They’re fun, the better of them can possibly be a handy reference tool, but remember that you probably couldn’t fill one out completely for yourself and six friends and, even if you can, you probably won’t have an accurate picture of any of you ‚Ķ so they shouldn’t be your alpha and omega of characterisation.

It doesn’t matter if you sit down with Pantera at decibel levels that would shame Grand Funk and a Big Gulp full of Jamesons, lock yourself in a sound proof room with incense, try to use a laptop while sitting zazen, or spend the day on the London underground with a BIC writing on Kleenex. It’s just got to work for you. You probably shouldn’t ritualise it over much or you’ll find yourself so caught up in ritual that you lose track of ideas; really, that spark of inspiration isn’t going to wait while¬†you to fire up the Yanni CD, brew that special herbal tea, paint your toenails, take a bath, and chain the family and neighbours in your basement (yes, I’m sort of making fun of a few people from a thread on NaNoWriMo).

There’s no secret to making it a great story, either. Doesn’t matter if you wrote it in one draft or fifty (though excess drafts can lead to a too sterile narrative, but excess is a relative quantity), it doesn’t matter if you go over it with a fine toothed thesaurus or strip out every scrap of descriptive language, axe murder every adverb or add fifteen to every sentence. None of those tricks you find touted are a magic solution. Some help in certain genres, some work for certain types of writing (non-fiction, scripts, etc.) because, contrary to a new popular attitude, writing is not the same across all things. What is necessary to ensure accurate and logical textbooks is useless to a novel, what helps keep a short story streamlined can ruin a script, and so on. All that can make a story great is a mix of perception from the reader, talent of the writer (yes, there’s such a thing as talent, and all the piano lessons & practice in the world will no more turn you into Bach than all the writing exercises in history will make you Rudyard Kipling), and some stories are more liable to resonate with people than others (according to someone, Pat Rothfuss I think, that’s going to ultimately be the human heart in conflict with itself).

As for selling it? Well, you’ll never sell what never leaves your hands (literally and metaphorically). Whether you self-publish or traditionally do so, you have to try.

There’re things that help.

First off, yes, having written the current popular formula ‚Ķ assuming you haven’t finished in a saturated market that is beginning to reach critical mass and be transitioning to something else. If you like the style of story, fine. But I suggest you not write it just because it’s what’s selling right now ‚Ķ not unless you’re an experienced writer who can knock out a clean manuscript to shop to an agent or to post to iBooks in only a month or three, because you’re unlikely to finish while it’s still In.

Secondly, don’t get discouraged. Remember, it took a long time for the Beatles and J K Rowling to get a contract. They both could wallpaper a room with rejections. If you’re self-publishing ‚Ķ remember that, by and large, people don’t read. Even NYTimes Bestsellers might only have got a thousand sales, and they probably had the help of ads that cost a couple thousand dollars each.

Thirdly, don’t give up. Taking down a story that isn’t selling isn’t going to sell it any better. If it ain’t costing you to offer it, don’t remove it. If you’re traditionally published ‚Ķ try talking to your agent to see if they can help you get some better publicity or something.

Finally, edit. Self-published especially, since you’re not going to sell very well if you’ve a book out that looks like it was written by a schizophrenic toddler with Tourette syndrome, but even if you plan to submit it to an agent/publisher it’s not going to impress them to look at a garbled parody of English (or French, Portuguese, or whatever you wrote it in); they’re buying your writing, not your glorious idea ‚Ķ besides, even if they love the idea, they’ve got to be able to find it inside all that text, and they can’t do that if it’s unintelligible.

One trick that does really help, though: read. Doesn’t have to be the genre you’re writing in (might even help not to be, but that depends on you), but read. The kind of writing does matter, it does no good to read novels to learn to be a poet, but beyond that just read for the simple pleasure of it. Don’t pull the story apart like some literature class assignment looking for themes and plots and cheeseburgers and ‚Ķ buggered if I know, I was never lying when I said I paid all but no attention whatsoever in my literature classes ‚Ķ just read. By doing so you’ll, the same way a child learns to speak by listening to people around her talking, you’ll start to get an idea how to tell a story.

Really, if the only thing you’ve ever read is a book about how to write (or books) it’ll show. There’ll be something unnatural about it to those who can’t spot the signs, and the rest of us can probably damned near say which writing manuals you used.

Stephen King, American author best known for h...

‚ÄúIf you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.‚ÄĚ

‚Äē Stephen King

Writing, like life, can’t be hurried and still maintain quality. Kraft Easy Mac might only take a minute in the microwave, but is it really anywhere near as good as the stuff your nana made from scratch with three kinds of real artisan cheeses and homemade pasta? Probably not, unless nana was real shite in the kitchen. And, unlike the Easy Mac which, news flash younger readers, used to take something like five minutes, there’s nothing much that can speed up writing except, maybe, spending time you could otherwise be writing doing exercises in Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing. So, if you never want to be better than mid-list (if that high) forget about shortcuts, forget about tricks, forget about anything except what it takes to keep your story moving, your fingers on pen/keyboard, your characters from wandering off to play strip poker, and so that you can remember that Bridgette has curling green hair now because of that spell that backfired in the third chapter.

And seriously, folks, who besides Dean Wesley Smith actually ever wants to be known for churning out literary Easy Mac?! (don’t ask).

Beautiful characters

Have you ever noticed how often the characters of our novels and stories are beautiful?

What I find fascinating is, sometimes, they aren’t or at least aren’t explicitly described as such ‚Äď we merely assume they are.

I think this has to do with escapism and romantic notions.

Too, I think it’s down to perceptions.

Now, it’s no good talking about the ruggedly handsome specimen of masculine archtypicality John Carter, Warlord of Barsoom. ¬†I suppose there are reasons we could, he’s described in pretty fair detail so we could make and reject all manner of philosophical debates about it; especially since it’s never explicitly stated he’s supposed to be remarkably handsome, only the kind of handsome that comes from being a healthy and fit human with self-confidence.

I’m going to use my own writing for this, though, because they’re my characters so I know them intimately.

Sally, Lauren, their friends:  are they beautiful?

Oh sure, Sally describes Lauren as quite gorgeous repeatedly. ¬†Thing is ‚Ķ is she a reliable narrator? ¬†Most descriptions wherein Lauren is any remarkable beauty are (‚Ķ wait for it ‚Ķ) from Salencia’s point of view! ¬†Sally’s biased. ¬†For one, Sally loves redheads. ¬†Why? ¬†Dunno, she just does. ¬†My high school girlfriend was a redhead, and I’ll admit she had a certain charm, and my wife certainly loves¬†my red hair, and for that matter a lot of women I know (men too, come to think of it) ‚Ķ I suppose it’s something about redheads. ¬†Still, no one else describes her as beautiful beyond circumstantial points or when talking about her spirit and personality.

Lauren is not ugly, I would imagine, no. ¬†Simply put it is hard not to be attractive when you are healthy, fit, and take a certain measure of care in your choice of hair and clothes not in regards to societal expectations, but rather in regard to what suit both your body and your personality. ¬†Suffice to say,¬†I do not have either the face shape nor personality to pull off a Pat Benatar or Joan Jett look, on me it’d be unattractive whereas on them it’s bloody stunning. ¬†She is what she is, a petite redhead with freckles, and a demure hippie fashion sense, and the musculature of a dancer; she’s healthy, she’s trim ‚Ķ and it’s important to note that healthy is specific. ¬†You can work out to the point of unhealthy, all muscle is not actually any better than all fat with regards to your overall health. ¬†If coppertopped pygmies are attractive to you, then yes, Lauren¬†is quite beautiful, but if you’re not into that then she generally falls into the realm of “cute”.

Sally, on the flip side, does trend toward more universally beautiful. ¬†To each her own, not everyone digs the exotic skin tone, dark hair, etc. ¬†But on general terms, while Lauren probably wouldn’t have much of a modelling career, Sally could. ¬†She’s something between 5′ 6″ and 5′ 8″ (167 – 173 cm), proportioned like Shakira, with lots of leg, and features reminiscent of¬†Aishwarya Rai (especially with regards to her hair); Sally could model pretty successfully (well, if she had the personality for it).

The rest actually aren’t described. ¬†They’re as pretty or ugly as you’re comfortable picturing. ¬†Though from my point of view the characters are all fairly attractive in that generic way that comes from good health.

I mention this because it’s an odd criticism that comes up about fiction, that the characters shouldn’t always be so spectacularly stunning to look at. ¬†On principle, I agree. ¬†I mean, Bilbo Baggins isn’t supposed to be some playboy with all the lady hobbits fawning over him, and maybe that puts an important detail into his character. ¬†I also agree that some fiction goes too far and ‚Ķ just peruse some of the not-so-good fanfiction some time for easy access to an example (though the gods know there’s plenty of it on store shelves too). ¬†Romances ‚Ķ okay, they’re given some leeway, for one thing they’re probably narrated from a POV that, like with Lauren, tends toward a bias, the rest is just tradition ‚Ķ for whatever reason, we’re happier with Westley and Buttercup than we are Miracle Max and his wife (whose name utterly escapes me now, even though she has one in the novel). ¬†Still, I think, if we look strictly at the text as given, we find more cases where the characters aren’t especially pretty nor especially ugly; generally the heroes are going to need to be healthy and fit, so a measure of attraction comes with that, but beyond it ‚Ķ I think a lot of character beauty is perceived, not narrated.

Verity Price, for example? ¬†Is she a Sally or is she a Lauren? ¬†She’s in really good shape, and depending how you like the look she cultivates, you could probably go either way; but the real point is ‚Ķ nothing explicitly says one way or the other. ¬†My vote is more of a Lauren. ¬†Dominic, however, is more of a Sally. ¬†He’s got the muscular Fabio-esque euro-hottie vibe turned up to 11 ‚Ķ well, until he talks, anyway. ¬†(see:¬†Discount Armageddon and Midnight Blue Light Special.)

Now, to prove that it’s not always just the men who get to be the supreme hotties. ¬†Let’s look at Barsoom. ¬†Dejah Thoris is, admittedly, not explicitly described possibly to keep her look more timeless, since within Burroughs’ lifetime the epitome of feminine beauty had shifted a few times before he wrote that book. ¬†Still we’re given enough to agree with his assessment, and little enough to fill in the blanks with our own opinion ‚Äď in short, Dejah Thoris is the most beautiful woman on Mars both because you’re told she is, and because she’s put together in the right way to somewhat ensure this. ¬†Our good gentleman, John Carter, on the other hand is described in detail. ¬†Yeah, he’s got a lot of dashing hero tropes, so he’s going to be handsome in that fit fighting man kind of way; but he’s also described in rather generic terms. ¬†He could be any of our brothers, fathers, sons, etc. if they only had spent so much of a lifetime relying on the strength of both their wit and arms to keep them alive.

What’s the point? ¬†Why does it matter?

I’ve wondered that too, somewhat. ¬†Why¬†should it matter if there’re characters with crooked teeth, or characters with perfect teeth? ¬†Both sides, in other words, confuse me. ¬†Why are describing teeth unless it’s important? ¬†At that point, they’re perfect or crooked based on the dictates of the character. ¬†And, I’m sorry, but some people’s teeth grow in quite neatly without orthodontia (which, I might add has existed since the mummies were still being entombed¬†in Egypt) so a pre-modern character can still have perfect teeth (just¬†now you’ve a reason to mention it).

I don’t understand this idea of forcing “unattractiveness” on characters as some kind of Thing. ¬†This idea that making all the characters flawless beautifies as some kind of Thing is equally strange. ¬†Why can’t we just make characters people? ¬†More importantly, why do we need to describe the characters in such tedious detail that the only explanation of why would have to be that we’re jumping up and down going “look! not conforming to unattainable standards of beauty!” or “lookit how pretty (s)he is!!”. ¬†Oh, yeah, sometimes you gotta if the bloody¬†point is how (un)attractive the character is. ¬†But must you do so for¬†everyone?

I’m starting to sidetrack myself with rambling. ¬†Simply put: ¬†who¬†cares?! ¬†Why should we care? ¬†Lauren an Sally only need to be pretty to each other everything else is just decoration; Sally being so remarkably pretty was because that’s what she looked like when she popped into my head as a character ‚Ķ maybe I’d been looking at a lot of Bollywood and Tamil actresses at the time or something. ¬†I mean, I¬†don’t think it’s good¬†writing to have every character be this flawless thing nor the opposite. ¬†I also just don’t agree with¬†everyone thinking someone is oh-so-gorgeous/ugly. ¬†Even people who are considered “classic beauties”, in other words they fit the biological mould of healthy, good genes, fertility/virility, etc. like Marilyn Monroe, Aishwarya Rai, Chris Hemsworth, and Clark Gable aren’t¬†universally¬†adored as beautiful. ¬†Some people really just have a thing for this hair colour or that, for darker or ligher skin, etc. ¬†Also, Rodney Dangerfield was nothing much to look at, but as I recall the man was married and had children ‚Ķ clearly someone dug something about him, probably even found him attractive.

‚ÄúDarling, did it ever occur to you that, if Salencia had a six foot nose covered in warts and no teeth and a squint and a great big hairy mole in the middle of her forehead, if you loved her then you‚Äôd still see her as beautiful? You‚Äôd see past the ‚Ķ mess to the person and heart inside and suddenly ‚Ķ well, very few happy and loving couples don‚Äôt think one another beautiful, quirky old songs notwithstanding.‚ÄĚ

Excerpt From: Jaye Em Edgecliff. ‚ÄúLove or Lust.‚ÄĚ iBooks.

Extremism. ¬†It’s rarely good; not never or that’d be a paradox and therefore nonsense. ¬†We should stop criticising works for having characters who are beautiful or not, and start looking at criticising the works that put big flashing neon signs over it needlessly. ¬†Not even for the act itself, but rather for the sloppiness and laziness that it embodies. ¬†Believe me, I’ve rarely met a story that was explicitly trying to make people stunning or hideous that wasn’t just all ’round badly written. ¬†When telling a story it’s down to that balance thing. ¬†Like Show vs Tell ‚Äď sometimes you should have one, sometimes the other, generally a bit of an ambiguous blending of the two.

[REBLOG]: Jake‚Äôs Last Mission, conflict, a defense of Kristark‚Äôs Coronation as a story, probably other stuff too because I‚Äôm writing this right before bed so my inner editor is already asleep

This was linked to via pingback on this other reblog I made¬†and it was, I thought, a good if rambly and typo riddled take on the subject; in her defense, the author does indicate she was writing the the small hours of the morning ‚Äď ah, the logics of 2AM.

My own work “lacks conflict” and according to one or two reviews “lacks plot” because 1) these two things, by many’s definition, are one and the same and 2) because some people really have a poor understanding of what those words mean

1) Plot is A happens, then B happens, then C happens. ¬†That’s all plot is. ¬†It’s “wha-happ’n’d”. ¬†Nothing more, nothing less. ¬†It’s very difficult to tell any story of any sort, even a vignette, without having, by strict definition, a plot. ¬†Conflict is … well, it’s conflict. ¬†It’s the characters’ internal struggles, it’s their struggles against their environment, it’s their struggles against others.

2) The very fact that time passes within¬†Now & Forever is an indicator that there’s a plot. ¬†A single thread of plot? ¬†Yes, actually, though it’s only liable to be clearly visible once all four books are written — though I’ll say it now: ¬†the plot is the girls’ growing love and them growing up, and how that impacts their love and relationship; put more succinctly the plot is two high school sweethearts getting through high school together.

Conflict abounds, though it is in no way the driving force of the story. ¬†There’s minor conflict between Lauren and Sally ‚Äď as any couple will, they have their disagreements, and we see them. ¬†Maybe it’s not generally a flaming row, but not all couples have those. ¬†There’s “[wo]man versus [her] environment”. ¬†I’m sorry, but even in Washington, the US is not and in 2010 – 2014 was not a terribly wonderful place to be homosexual, this is not a major factor of the story, but it is a primary source of what conflict exists. ¬†It also has “[wo]man versus [her]self” given that the girls¬†are growing up and have their doubts and insecurities that come with such things and that come with being in love.

Honestly, though, I’m merely echoing ‚Ķ more or less, anyway ‚Ķ what this other post says with my own stories inserted in place of hers.

Jake’s Last Mission, conflict, a defense of Kristark’s Coronation as a story, probably other stuff too because I’m writing this right before bed so my inner editor is already asleep

Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First, I apologize in advance for, even for me, an unusual amount of rambly-ness in this post.  And typos.  And homonym errors.  If I had any sense, I’d probably wait until tomorrow . . . err, later today, I guess . . . to write this.  If I had any sense, however, I’d have gone into a much more lucrative career than writing space opera, so . . .

Second, this isn’t complaining about my reviews.  My reviewers are entitled to their opinions.  They just gave me something concrete to point at while I make a point about something that’s been bothering me for quite a long time.

Now, on to my actual post:

Ursula K. LeGuin said:

Modernist manuals of writing often conflate story with conflict. This reductionism reflects a culture that inflates aggression and competition while cultivating ignorance of other behavioral options. No narrative of any complexity can be built on or reduced to a single element. Conflict is one kind of behavior. There are others, equally important in any human life, such as relating, finding, losing, bearing, discovering, parting, changing.

Change is the universal aspect of all these sources of story. Story is something moving, something happening, something or somebody changing.

I just discovered this quote a few days ago, but it‚Äôs something I‚Äôve thought of before. ¬†Years ago, in fact, I argued this very point on a rpg forum when I was told, pretty much, by some people that my games couldn‚Äôt possibly be fun because conflict wasn‚Äôt the driving force. ¬†And it wasn‚Äôt even a ‚Äúrpgs are about killin‚Äô things and gettin‚Äô mad loot‚ÄĚ or whatever thing. ¬†Apparently if there‚Äôs a love story in your game or story, the drama and change that comes just from being in a relationship isn‚Äôt enough, you have to bring in soap opera elements like love triangles and kidnappings and such, for example. ¬†Change wasn‚Äôt enough; there had to be conflict, according to these people. (continued)

Writer’s can’t take time off

Greatest Hits (Billy Joel albums)

Greatest Hits (Billy Joel albums) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s another National Novel Writer even this month and while I’ve ceased having anything to do with them I still haven’t got around to blocking/unsubscribing from the periodic emails, and I’ve friends who still do it and still peruse the forums.

There is this pervasive notion among those who give writing advice that boggles my mind so thoroughly it deserves a second post ‚Ķ I’m not sure I’m up to providing a link to my first tackling of this subject.

What topic? This idea you have to write. You can’t take time off for family, for holidays, for illness, for simple lack of inspiration. To this I say “bullshit“, emphatically and unshakingly bullshit.

Now the argument is that, if you find one reason to not write you’ll find other and fall into a vicious cycle of unwriting.

Lawrence Block says:

“If you want to write fiction, the best thing you can do is take two aspirins, lie down in a dark room, and wait for the feeling to pass.
If it persists, you probably ought to write a novel.‚ÄĚ

Excerpt From: Block, Lawrence. ‚ÄúWriting the Novel.‚ÄĚ Open Road Integrated Media, 2010-06-15. iBooks.
This material may be protected by copyright.

Check out this book on the iBooks Store:

If you have a story you want to write, you’ll write it. If it is such a chore that you can talk yourself out of it, then you may wish to ask yourself what is your real reason to do this and if it’s worth it.

Me? I just spent a week in hospital. I’m fine, but in pain ‚Äď major surgery is unpleasant that way; I’m on narcotic pain relief, suffice to say I’m not writing. Besides, I can’t pick up my writing back without popping my stitches so I can’t write if I weren’t vaguely out of it.

My point is, I still want to see the end of Now & Forever, so the day I can pick that bag up and complete a rational though at one and the same time I’ll be right back to writing, and probably better at it as the surgery fixed a painful problem that is not an open topic for discussion (not embarrassing or tragic, just personal and private).

Artists need not bleed for their work. Certainly they should not buy the razor blades, bare their wrists, and make all the cuts themselves. Our art should be part of us, it should be something we can’t not do. Art is also life, we cannot make good art if we do not live. Take musicians who take their music so seriously they burn out after a half dozen albums because they are never not touring or recording, now think of Buffett or Billy Joel with their decades long careers, upwards of hundred albums, and no burn out: they remembered to live. They took time off for love, divorce, children, getting shot at by Jamaican police, philanthropy, etc.

It’s true for all of us. Take a day off to climb a mountain, take a two week honeymoon in the Italian Riviera, relax and recover when you find yourself stapled shut after a visit to the ER, take a nap in a hammock on a warm sunny spring day ‚Ķ it’s okay, your book will still be there when you get back.

To those who say I should have written while in hospital and should be while recovering, I repeat: bullshit.

Getting somewhere

Ready or Not is a step closer to release.

I’m in the process of another proofreading pass. ¬†This one, sadly, is less a polish run and more of a revision/redraft/rewrite than when I’d don’t this for¬†Love or Lust, but such is life. ¬†The importance of that distinction is that it means I’m that much more likely to need till June to release. ¬†With luck things will be swift and smooth enough that I’ll be done with this by March and able to give over to my editor for that last check for typos and grammar mistakes ‚Ķ if that’s the case we could see release by April or May. ¬†So, fingers are crossed.

I’ve written one, and may write other short stories that expand things from the final book. ¬†Still trying to decide if I ought to do that before or after putting the book out. ¬†Probably after, at least for the one written already, since it spoils a surprise.

Vulgarity, sex, and other offensive things

As always, my opinion regarding asking “should I ‚Ķ” when writing your story should always be answered with “yes, absolutely, if you want to”. ¬†But as always there can be room to discuss the impact, and nuances of that answer.

Graphics violence, explicit sex, vulgar language, lewd behaviour … should these be in our fiction?

The answer to that isn’t so clear cut, honestly. ¬†Then again, perhaps it is. ¬†Tough decision. ¬†On one hand, they’re a part of our reality, so of course they should be there for realism — and even fantasy shouldn’t shy away from them unless it’s trying to paint a rosier setting. ¬†On the other ‚Ķ how detailed a picture do we wish to paint for the youths?

Frankly, in most regards, I see it like this: ¬†language should be accurate. ¬†If swearing isn’t common in your fantasy world, then don’t use any. ¬†If you’re writing teenagers in modern America, then odds are some or many of them will swear (probably, rather a lot). ¬†We were all teenagers once, or possibly still are, and we probably hear teenagers talking to one another at the mall — profanity is a way of life. ¬†The key is to learn the forbidden words of the day. ¬†30 or more years ago the scary word that you just didn’t use if you could help it, in conversation, in dialogue,¬†anywhere, was fuck. ¬†Now? ¬†Fucking fucked the fucker; that’s a sentence someone might say in a crowded street at the top of their lungs. ¬†You’ll shock few with it. ¬†Nigger, however ‚Ķ that will get people’s attention in a hurry. ¬†That’s not to say it shouldn’t be used in the interest of accurate dialogue, but you should — for the sake of social acceptability of your work — weigh your options on using it at all, and be sure your dialogue uses it accurately or you’ll simply piss a lot of people off either for using it, or using it wrong, or ‚Ķ simply put, it’s the new fuck.

Also, what age are you writing for? ¬†If for children, that’s a tough one. ¬†I mean, as I understand it, in French any age says zut, merde, pute, et al because there is no dang/darn, shoot, and fudge. ¬†It makes me wonder if, just probably, you find those words in French childrens’ books, therefore (I can’t read French, and don’t much enjoy the language, so I’m speculating from what I know of it from people who do). ¬†In English, however, we tend to frown upon using profanity in front of children, so it’s probably seen as best to keep such language out of your childrens’ books. ¬†Just remember, legal age of majority is not the same as adulthood versus childhood. ¬†Many people are not so much children any longer in their language, experience, attitudes, etc. once they’re somewhere between 10 and 14, certainly by the time they’re 15. ¬†Still, it’s your story, if you want little Brother Bear saying “Fuck this shit” to Momma Bear in your kids’ story, it’s your kids’ story, just don’t be surprised when every protect the children organisation in the country is calling for your head on a spike. ¬†Personally, I prefer to be true to the characters. ¬†Some people swear like the only vocabulary they have is entirely vulgarities, others blush if they say ‘heck’. ¬†As such there are swear words in my stories, but it’s dialogue and by people who speak that way, it’s not meant for impact (well, at one point, but that’s after you’ve got to know Lauren well enough to realise that, while nothing too shocking about ‘fuck’ or its presence in the story, its presence in her mouth¬†is shocking), it’s just meant to characterise.

Violence. ¬†Fun one that. ¬†Certainly let’s leave that out of the little kids’ works. ¬†I mean, come one, do you¬†really want to give little Timmy nightmares? ¬†Then again ‚Ķ ever read the old fairy tales as the brothers Grimm published them? ¬†How about the older versions they worked from? ¬†Maybe, if we don’t shelter little Suzy, she won’t be so bothered by a bit of visceral depiction and graphic violence. ¬†After that ‚Ķ stand outside a cinema for 20 minutes some Friday night. ¬†Believe me, by the time Jimmy is 10, Jimmy will watch Terminator and laugh at the cheesy special effects (ah, the expectations of the advanced CGI generation), you won’t shock him with some blood and gore. ¬†After that it’s just a question of how disgustingly visceral you should be. ¬†Do we give a highly detailed and graphic account of someone committing hari kari? ¬†Do we do it in first person POV? ¬†Mmmm ‚Ķ plenty of full grown adults, even a few who’ve been in war, might be squeamish to read that. ¬†Doesn’t mean don’t do it, just remember — a reader who throws up, is a reader who may not read your next book — so you might ask yourself, do I need to be so graphic? ¬†I base it entirely on tone of the story. ¬†Now & Forever will never go into graphic detail of any violence that might be occurring;¬†F√¶rie Patrol,¬†on the other hand, might a bit — though we won’t be seeing anything as graphic as Kill Bill. ¬†

Sex. ¬†Funny thing, sex ‚Ķ what’s so wrong with it? ¬†Sex is great, it makes kids, it doesn’t hurt anyone (certain very frightening fetishes aside — RP is one thing, doing that stuff for real!? ¬†~shudder~). ¬†Still, it’s dirty, and something you should shield the children from. ¬†Again, if you want to keep the PTA off your back, then leave it out of your Amelia Bedelia inspired fiction. ¬†Stuff for the middle school/junior high crowd? ¬†High school? ¬†Frankly — if they’ve hit puberty, then odds are pretty good they know what sex is. ¬†Unless I went to a very unusual school ‚Ķ they’ve got a fair notion by the time they’re a year or two away, I believe I was starting to get the clue around 3rd grade, myself. ¬†So now the question is, fade to black or get explicit? ¬†Explicit will almost certainly get people on your back if you write for a crowd under 25, but depending on details you probably won’t get¬†much flak if you keep the target 16+. ¬†So, again, is the exact detail of exactly who put what where and in what order so vital as to risk alienating readers? ¬†It might be. ¬†Certainly I could see a very clear argument for explicit sex scenes in a teen fiction work, I really can. ¬†Point of note, even for the more puritanical crowd: ¬†even the ones who graduate high school as virgins, because of those little “not until married pledges” ‚Ķ not personally, but some people I know quite well ‚Ķ they tend to be very technical on the whole virginity thing; put bluntly, an amazing number of ‘virgins’ are quite versed in oral and anal activities. ¬†By being explicit you’re not providing these ‘kids’ with anything they haven’t already seen, done, or fantasised about unless you’re digging into the twisted depths of fetishist sites, then you¬†might be providing a colourful piece of education. ¬†Personally, I fade to black. ¬†I always feel silly getting specific; but if it doesn’t violate the tone of the story then go for it, but if it would ‚Ķ well ‚Ķ for example, the sex scene in¬†Ready or Not¬†(uhm, spoiler¬†alert?) is not so much fade to black as fade to the¬†emotions rather than the bodies because the mechanical aspects of the event would have been discordant with the tone of the moment.

As always, you’ll write very little that’s safe enough not to offend¬†someone. ¬†I mean, have you ever mentioned that Jesus drank wine to a Temperance League member? ¬†As with violating the rules of physics or the laws of grammar, do it with eyes wide open. ¬†Remember, while in the end you’re writing for yourself, if you plan to publish then you are¬†also writing for the public. ¬†The public might be 7billion souls upon this globe alone, so there’ll always be¬†someone who agrees with you, you ought to ask yourself “how many people are going to like¬†reading about a toddler prostitute assassin” then ask “how many parents are likely to buy this storybook about said toddler for their sweet little toddler’s bedtime storybook” ‚Ķ no one says you can’t write and draw it and put it out there, just please don’t be surprised when you raise eyebrows and when your sales are low.

Taboos, those glorious taboos. ¬†Society has expectations. ¬†It’s our jobs to question, probe, exploit, reinforce, shatter, violate, uphold, and ignore those expectations, those mores, those taboos ‚Ķ but if you do it with eyes open you do it in a meaningful way. ¬†When you are aware that most parents won’t like a storybook for little Timmy to be about a toddler assassin prostitute, then you will approach the narrative, the themes, the plot, etc. rather differently, one would assume, than if you take it for granted that no parent would ever take issue with a storybook about an assassin prostitute aged three.