Tag Archives: writing decisions

We All Have Heroes, and Models

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Who were the writers you imitated (or imitate!) in your pastiche phase?

Much as I loved and read Andre Norton, I never seemed to do anything her style. I had a definite Lester Dent phase, resulting in my first finished novella, then went into a Weird Tales swords and sorcery phase, with REH plots and CAS language (oh, my poor teacher), then moved more into the style of Fritz Leiber.

After that, I actually started finding my own style. I think the continued factors of “my style” are characters one recent critter described as talking as wittily as he wished real people did (based largely on myself and my friends: we really did and do try to be amusing) and a reality-based mixture of the wonderful and the gritty.

An analogy for that looks in the window at me: a beautiful crescent moon in a dawn-painted frame of clouds, above ranks of dusty rain-streaked storage containers with peeling warehouses in the middle distance and container cranes beyond, all laced with power wires.

Everything else, whether my language is plain or fancy (level of language), whether it’s all dialogue or all action, the genre — that varies. Bits of CAS’s vocabulary creep in, but my critters will tell me where they go “huh?”

What’s your style? What do you wish it were? What do you need to change to get there?

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Village of the Dumbed

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As part of teaching the Keys, I have six stories for practice critiquing, each badly flawed in different ways. In some cases, it was a hard decision which I was going to use as a horrible example for dialogue or characterization or plotting, because some are horrible in several ways. Mind you, they were all once published by big houses, and some authors would be considered giants in the field of science fiction and fantasy. Everyone slips sometimes. I think that is an invaluable lesson in itself.

What I notice particularly now is the very common use of Villagers, non-human or semi-human creatures that greatly resemble us, can speak more or less like us, but that have the intelligence of a domestic turkey.

Of course, they are what they are for plot convenience.

That’s so wrong.

Characters of all levels, from protagonists to spear-carriers, need to act naturalisticly, like reasonable people would. Even like stupid people, at the very least.

Yes, the world is full of people who forget to put their brains in gear. I’ll never forget sending back a steak for being too well-done, and the chef sent back the same steak, cooked even more.

However, the constant stereotype of Villagers seems to me a sign of an unconscious, and all the more pervasive, prejudice in the college/academic/intellectual world of science fiction and fantasy, against rural people, farmers especially, as if they were no brighter than their cattle. As an attitude in a field dominated by urban white-collar technicians (engineers, scientists, &c) and “art school geeks,” this is understandable, if not condonable.

You should notice the lack of this in rural-raised writers, like Orson Scott Card, or S. A. Bolich from the horse-raising families out in Spokane, Washington, In her work, it’s as likely to be the citified intellectuals (like the preacher in In the Shadow of Heaven) who wind up the villains.

Certainly, Ursula K. Leguin has noted a distinct lack of blue-collar protagonists in science fiction, and that includes farmers.
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Exotic Pet Ban: Delete Your Pets

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The traditional term among writers is often “murder your darlings.” This phrase is not always understood and does repel by its overly dramatic word choice. These days we delete files, unlike the old days when the technical term and the code command was to “kill” a file.

What you are looking for, in order to change or delete, are words, phrases, scenes, characters, or subplots that are too brilliant, too clever, too glow-in-the-dark, so that they don’t fit into the prose or story organically. They stick out like that cupboard door left open at eye height. In revision, you need to close the door.

These are often hard to see for yourself, especially after several revisions. You become work-blind to them. You can best find them by watching your own reactions.
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Time to Prioritize

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On my common topic of writing revision, consider this …

Is it time you revised your writing game plan?

Thanks to an overactive imagination and too little time, I have way too many “projects” on hold, from individual short stories to series of novels.

Sure, they get shopped around, but if you hadn’t noticed, most publishers have slush piles that feed into wormholes. You send them the properly formatted manuscript with return postcard for arrival notification, as well as the return envelope with all that postage on it, and you never hear a thing again.

This especially applies when you send a proper synopsis and three opening chapters, and have them contact you, asking to see the entire manuscript which has really interested them. Wahoo, right? Right into the wormhole, to emerge as a stream of sub-atomic particles on the other side of the universe. So I wait a year, send ticklers, and get ignored.

But the point is, NaNoWriMo is over, and it’s time to think about one more novel in the stack.
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Time for a New Year’s Change

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If your present methods of work are producing you a stream of stories that are finding homes and an audience — as they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

But if there’s something that isn’t working for you, it’s time for a change.

This includes sheer boredom. If you want tedium, you can find plenty of wearisome ways to spend your time that are much easier work than writing fiction and marketing it, and probably bring in more money or status to boot. (Say, dumpster diving for items to sell on eBay. Game stores and upscale neighborhoods with designer label trash seem to rule YouTube dumpster vids.)
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That School of Holy Map-Making

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A boffer would have been handy the other day to hit myself in the head with. (Why do we punish ourselves for having just solved the problem?)

One of my big projects had been hanging fire because I had to make a continental-scale map to lay out the states and climate and the military campaigns.

Now, let me say that if your story is about a couple of wandering rogues, you can lay out a map in half an hour — I’ve done it on lined paper during a lecture class. As soon as you bring in military campaigns, you are looking at days of work because you have to either decide on the terrain and make the war fit it, or you have to work out the strategy in detail and make the map suit.

But, whoa, there — why are we laying out maps in any case?

Because someone told us we had to.

Because someone said that without one we will have the city north of the river in this story or chapter and south of it in another.

No, we won’t. Read the rest of this entry

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.