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Myselves in the Bottom Drawer

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“Be what you are. This is the first step toward becoming better than you are.” -Julius Charles Hare

“To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.” -Henri Bergson

I would think it a great shame, and a waste of life, to mostly be who I was at, say, twenty. Some of the seeds of who I am were there, largely unknown to anyone but me. Other parts of now-me came out of experience or friends or the changes in the world that I accept or reject.

This, perhaps, is a problem with revising one’s older works. I’m not that person any more, including for the changes in me that writing that novel wrought. It’s almost an advantage, like editing someone else’s work, except all the issues are so personal and all the images were long ago burned into my brain. The story seems old because I’ve known it so long.

So that’s why I keep writing new novels. It’s not to pay the rent. It’s to capture the now-me the way those novels preserved in amber bits of former-me. Some things will remain the same, reappearing book after book. Others come out of so specific a time that after a few rounds of glacial editors, they’re no longer marketable. (There’s a reason I never write contemporaries any more.)

This isn’t the issue I hit before on having “outgrown” a story. That was a matter of your plotting and story-telling skill, maybe your handling of tension and pacing, maybe a learned aversion to cliche. Here, I’m trying to talk about changes in self, not skill. Maybe you’ve become more or less spiritual, and it shows in everything from your plots to the advice given by mentor characters. Maybe you’ve swerved toward Hemingway in style leanness and writing some required scenes for your old heroic fantasy done in the style of Eddison is like trying to write a pastiche.

That’s probably just the way to think of it. Unless you are willing to take it down to bedrock and rewrite it in you new persona — redescribe everything in the herofy and grey out characters, or reboot the characters and maybe themes of the other — your only way to get older books out of the bottom drawer is to pastiche your old self. Depending on what the differences are, it may be a fun little trip down the Memory Lane of yourself. Otherwise, think of it as editing work for the estate of a dear old friend.

The Silly Things They Tell You to Do …

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I have read a *lot* of “how to write” books going back into the mid 1800s. I’ve read a lot of how-to sites, taken a number of classes in creative writing, and the greatest repository of silly rules people try to inflict on writers of fiction can be gleaned out of workshop critiques. That’s because workshoppers have, collectively, picked up from even more sources and will be happy to try to save you from error by parroting “rules” that any few moments of thought should reject. More paving on the road to hell.

For today, I would like to shake a couple of these loose, in case you’ve forgotten to question authority.

Foolishness #1: Show, Don’t Tell, always.

I trust you have already read my post on when to Tell, Don’t Show. But if you think too hard there are many places you absolutely cannot Show and must Tell.

Orson Scott Card (*Ender’s Game*) has pointed out that motivations cannot be Shown but must be Told. The telling can be a character’s speech or thoughts, or a declaration in narrative, but Told it must be.

Other things cannot be told in words. Only fairly simple expressions or gestures can be described. Even if you go on for a hundred words, no writer can Show the one subtle act of an actress in *The 13th Warrior*:

In the midst of the hall, the queen turned to Bulweif so the king could not see, widened her eyes, pursed her mouth, and shoved her head a bit forward.

In visuals, a perfectly plain non-verbal demand. As a Show, worthless verbiage. It sounds like she’s blowing him a kiss (anyone who knows the movie can say this is accurate description). Rather, you have to Tell the reader:

In the midst of the hall, the queen turned to Bulweif so the king could not see, and shot him a look that demanded he do something to discourage the king, that only Bulweif could.

That’s the only practical way to handle this. Human non-verbal communication is too complex and nuanced. We are stuck describing the cumulative effect in a Tell.

Foolishness #2: Never have the character cry. Make the reader weep for them.

This came with a corollary claim that a character must never laugh. Rather, the writer must make the reader laugh for them.

Obviously, this came out of litfi and a teacher who had no comprehension of the vast world outside that little genre. As Holly Lisle pointed out, in “How to Write Suckitudinously,” in successful litfi all main characters are neurologically abnormal and have pretty much no feelings at all. The most worked up they get is to “almost feel something kind of resembling (fill in the feeling, and not too strong a one)”. Naturally, this sort of litfi robot would never feel enough emotion to weep, or even feel enough intellectual dissonance at a situation to laugh. They might manage a half-smile, but only if wry and self-mocking.

In the real world with normal people, whom most of our characters resemble, people laugh from nerves, in derision, at a joke or a cute dog doing tricks. They weep from sorrow, disappointment, frustration, anger, or any combination. To have not only your character but everyone’s characters never laugh or cry should be obviously silly.

It’s Creeping Me Out

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It’s not that Alexa spends all its time listening to your household. If people are willing to bug their own homes for Big Brother to monitor them, that’s their silly choice.

It’s the company’s choice of name.

Why Alexa?

It’s not an unpopular name. It’s like they’re trying to make “her” pretty and fashionable. What do all the women named Alexa do now? They all have to go by nicknames? Why not give the device a currently unpopular name like Gertrude or Agatha?

But I have to ask …

Why did they make it a woman? Why not the name of a butler, like Alfred or Jeeves? They also just wait to serve – no, wait. They have personality and opinions and agency. If you expect something to live to fulfill your commands, and have no life of its own, of course you make it a woman.

But they could have called it Fido. I never met a dog of that name, but everyone knows it’s a dog’s name. They could have called it Servo or some nonsense name.

But they had to give it not just one but two women’s names, Alexa and Echo.

Maybe now I can stop thinking about it.

Without My Innate Optimism …

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“A happy person is not a person in a certain set of circumstances, but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes.” -Hugh Downs

“Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.” -Colin Powell

…I can’t imagine where I’d be. We live in a culture of dissatisfaction, designed to make us try to buy happiness, and drama, where we seize unhappiness so we can be “interesting” like the people in movies.

Long ago, I decided you’re happy when you decide to be, and make the most of what you’ve got. It’s worked.

Washed Away by Fluid Pricing

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Amazon.com is getting silly to shop at.

So I tuned in Monday morning with a set budget. My shopping cart told me that a certain doll I like for customizing had been $8.55 but had gone up to $16. Groan of disappointment at missing the super-low price (from a third-party seller). So I go about my shopping, having a temporary fit for getting back to embroidery, then putting that stuff to buy later, getting the X-Acto blades I came for only to find out #16 are no longer made, and so on.

When I’m finalizing the order, I look at some things for later to fill out the total, beads and books and hair extensions, and the doll is $12.55. So I stick him in the basket.

I go to check out, but my total has jumped. The doll is $19.98!

Back to juggling. I take him out. I get a different doll and a pack of doll shoes. Before I buy, I look over my order and see, since he’s right under the total …

He’s down to $11.

Can I mouse fast enough to catch him at the price? I have to remove the other doll and shoes, too. I hit checkout and miraculously the price stays the same through the whole process.

80% jumps every five or ten minutes? What is with this seller? I don’t need the stress and surprises. I just want to buy some things, not do day-trading in the Pink Aisle.

There! E-Books done.

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At least all the non-fiction I can find. Total: a few dozen over 2000. I’m allowing for finding and eliminating a few more duplicates in the database.

That does include a few fiction items, including those that are research. (Some just fell in accidentally, and in SKU you don’t worry about it.) A novel written about a war, while it’s going on, can tell you a good deal about attitudes, if not reality. A novel of a quiet period can give you a hundred details of everyday life, especially when you have several to compare. You need to figure out if someone’s behavior is kind of universally expected, or outrĂ©, or simply the author commenting on character. I always hark back to Bulwer-Lytton inadvertently preserving for us the fact that people used to feed their canaries lump sugar as a treat, or Jane Austen the list of Gothic novels not suitable for young ladies.

I am still facing organizing the e-books for Early Dreamers, and that looks like another 300 or so is all. (whimper)

But for now, there’s champagne chilling, corned beef and potatoes in the foodbot, and a Krispy Kreme cake to bake. Celebrate the little victories along the way, or you’ll never keep your hand in at popping corks if you only wait for big ones.

The Revision Project

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Heaven knows it was useful to me to update my page that gathers all the blogs for the Revision Project. Just a few holes here and there! And maybe someday I’ll get that counting thing straight …

For those of you following that, it may help you catch some you missed, and also explained some apparent non sequiturs.