Writing and Other Afflictions

"If it was easy, everyone would do it." –Jimmy Dugan, "A League of Their Own"

Monthly Archives: August 2011

The Right Ending

What do you do when you have a bunch of equally valid endings for your story that all say different things? You have to figure out which one says the thing you want to say, and if you don’t know what you want to say then you have to figure that out too. It sounds simple, but right now I’m facing that dilemma. Endings are really important to me and so I want to make sure I nail this one, but it’s hard when my First Reader says “they’re both good.” :) It’s basically the difference between “character learns a lesson” and “character doesn’t learn a lesson,” and honestly I see the story working either way.

Well. Just another one of those things that must be figured out, y’know?

How To Write Better Dialogue

Short version: imagine that the dialogue you are writing will be performed by actor friends of yours who want to be interesting to the audience at all times.

Long version: read Ken Levine. His advice is for screenplays but it mostly holds for dialogue too.


Got together with a bunch of friends last night and people asked many times “how are you readjusting to being home?” Well, it’s interesting. See, I came home late Tuesday night, spent the next two days taking care of a friend post-surgery, then was wiped out Friday, and yesterday cleaned house and prepped for said get-together. In the meantime, our roommates of nine years moved out while we were gone and although the impact to the common rooms is minimal, it’s still a change.

Thursday I leave to visit family and friends across the country. So from a writing standpoint, I am frustrated by the twin demons of NotEnoughSleep and InabilityToEstablishRoutine, who are very pokey with the pitchforks and have managed to keep all the projects I want to do bottled up where I can’t quite get at them (save for a few small ones). I don’t want to start revising when I don’t have time to examine something; I don’t want to start something new. All I can do is a few short pieces here and there.

Maybe I should just write a little throwaway thing. Pretend I have to turn it in at five today, right, Clarionauts? (that would give me an hour and a half, so maybe five tomorrow). Or else this is the time to work on administrative stuff. No! No! Two hundred fifty words. Go.

Express Yourself

Lance Mannion talking about how people use language, saying his usual smart things.

I’ve made this point many times before, I know.   But this is how it works.  Most people are not lawyers or intellectuals.  They are poets.  They don’t use language to create unbreakable contracts or to express complex ideas with precision and nuance.  They use language to express themselves and that mostly means expressing their feelings.  And so they pick their words for how well they match their feelings.  They pick words that sound like their feelings, that feel like their feelings as they’re saying them.  They pick words that conjure up images that look like how they feel or that allow them to see themselves as looking like how they want to look as they are expressing those feelings.

It’s about Rick Perry tossing his (cowboy) hat into the ring, but it’s worth looking at even if you’re not into politics for a view into voice and how people use language to express what they mean without saying what they mean.

Top 100 SF/F books…sort of

Via many people, NPR’s list of the top 100 SF/F books is out.

My thoughts on it:

  • There are far too many books on this list I haven’t read. But several of them are on my list (thanks, Ryan! thanks, Josh! thanks Annie!), so that’s good.
  • Hard to argue too much with the top two as the most popular fantasy and SF books, respectively. A little surprised to see “Ender’s Game” at #3, but I guess when you’re famous for one book/idea rather than a body of work (as Bradbury and Asimov are), it biases the results on a poll like this. Bradbury and Asimov make it into the top ten, anyway.
  • Why are most series listed as series, but Dragonflight listed by itself? Have the “Dragonriders” books become so diluted that the original three are no longer thought of as a trilogy?
  • 8% of the list books were authored by someone whose first name is a homophone for “kneel.”
  • As other people have said, why mix SF and fantasy? Perhaps because then you could include spec-fic like “Watership Down” and “Flowers for Algernon,” which aren’t properly fantasy nor SF, respectively. Though honestly, as much as I love “Watership Down,” I don’t think of it as a genre book. I mean, why not “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” if we’re going that route? This is probably part of a longer meandering about how some more mainstream spec-fic is getting genre-y, and some genre books are getting more literary, and there are lots of people who have put a lot more thought into that than I have (though in my case it is perhaps informed by a confusion over what the hell to call much of what I gravitate toward writing–what are the New Tibet books? SF, sort of? But there’s no hard science element. Fantasy? Well, it’s too real-world grounded for that. Furry? Yeah, but…).
  • Congrats to Clarion instructor Scalzi for the inclusion of “Old Man’s War.”
  • Thomas Covenant (the first series): still popular at #58. That series was a topic of much discussion at Clarion, and most of the discussions went something like this: “<list of horrible things that happened in those books>” “Why would anyone read them?” <pause> “The worldbuilding was really pretty spectacular.”

Anyway, lists like this aren’t supposed to be definite. They’re supposed to be discussion points. I have been so far away from the genre that I can’t even properly think of books that should have been on there and weren’t except for “Cloud Atlas” and “Never Let Me Go,” and people are tired of hearing me talk about Mitchell and Isiguro already. Also interesting was that the last book on the list got just over 1,500 votes (I think). Toward the end, it looks like there are definitely a few books whose authors pushed fans to vote, because there are great books left off in favor of books I’ve never heard of. I do think it’s a crime that Kim Stanley Robinson and Connie Willis and China Mieville only appear in the 90s, but that’s better than not appearing at all.

Writing Update 8/11

I would like to have something interesting to say every time I post about writing. I would also like a van full of money to be driven up to my house and abandoned. We make do with what we have.

So I finished a draft of that story I started at Clarion. It’s 9000-some words and though it has a decent start and a reasonable ending and some good characters, it is kind of held together with spaghetti at the moment. I will let it sit and then revise.

In the meantime, I am working on a short piece for a fellow Clarionaut, and I will share a small bit of it here:

So the boy came to be called Theophilus, beloved of the gods. He danced for the town at every sacrifice, and every season he danced, the town remained blessed. Only Theophilus’s father was troubled. He knew that those who attract the attention of the gods seldom live long, peaceful lives.

Things I Have Not Done For Six Weeks

* Watched a TV show (with sound; technically I watched some TV while working out and at bars restaurants).

* Read MS Paint Adventures.

* Watched a movie on DVD (we went out to the theater twice).

* Seen my house.

* Seen anyone in my home writing group.

One of those is going to be remedied today. Maybe. Though the writing, it does call me… and I have writeups of various collab projects I have promised people. Plus I have ideas for two stories and one that stubbornly refuses to be finished even though I wrote 1000 words on it yesterday.

Okay, back to the word mines!

New Blog

So here’s this new WordPress blog. I’m going to work to move the content from Blogger over here, but in the meantime, this is where I’ll be posting stuff about life, writing, books, and whatever else comes to mind. Also working to integrate it into my Windows Live site…

Processing Clarion

Six instructors, seventeen classmates, twenty-three friendships.
Over one hundred stories read and critiqued.
Seven stories written, plus two more started and not finished (one nearly done).
Four new story ideas to work on, six stories to revise and possibly send out to markets, two novels awaiting application of learnings, one website to construct.

Clarion was amazing, life-changing in certain ways (not as much for me as for some of my classmates), incredible fun, and incredibly intense. We saw few people apart from each other in the normal course of the day, thought about writing all the time, read an incredible variety of stories from some amazing talents, and had to think up something useful to say about each and every one. In between, we had some wonderful professionals giving their thoughts on our stories, giving us tips from their lives, and playing drinking games with us on weekends.

I really loved the experience, and I’m so excited to be moving on into some story projects, finishing up other stories, working on the novels. It isn’t that I feel I wasn’t a writer before; none of us should have felt that, because we were told over and over that we are a talented group (otherwise we wouldn’t be at Clarion). It’s that I feel more confident. I know a few more tricks. I have a list of things to keep an eye out for. And I have a feel for what makes a good story, just by dint of having read wildly different stories from wildly different people. I know I can make mine better in ways I wouldn’t have thought of before. It means more work, but I’m so looking forward to it.

And we’re already starting to plan meet-ups at future conventions. Which is cool–I already can’t wait to see everyone again, and it’s only been three days since we were all together last (two and a half days since I said good-bye to my roomie at the airport). We are all full of bright plans and dreams and hopefully some measures of confidence, and it’s going to be a fun few years coming up. :)

One thing on my list is getting my vanity domain up, with this blog moved over there and a few stories up for people to read. August is kind of a busy month, but I think I can get some of that rolling. So watch this space for pointers to the next space…

Clarion Reflections

It’s not over yet; we have two more critiquing days and three more wonderful evenings to spend together before we go our somewhat-less-separate ways. But this has been a truly remarkable experience, participating in the creation of a new community, or, perhaps more accurately, a new iteration of an existing community. We have been assured by previous Clarion graduates that we are all part of the same tribe now. Still: eighteen people from geographically and somewhat culturally diverse backgrounds have spent five and a half weeks together, and now people whose names I did not know four months ago have become close friends and trusted writing companions. And we have learned a lot about writing along the way, and learned even more about ourselves as writers.

It’ll be bittersweet, the leaving, because of course I love my normal life and would not trade it for anything in the world, except for possibly a life identical in every way with a healthier bank account (but who wouldn’t want that?). The few occasions on which I’ve gotten to see my husband over the last six weeks have not been compensation for the time without (though I am dearly grateful for them). This little bubble we’ve lived in, though, where literally nearly everything is about writing–we critique, we write, we read, we repeat–has been a really wonderful experience. And will continue to be for three more days.

It’s kind of like that Avenue Q song, “I Wish I Could Go Back To College.” I always have, and for this summer, for six weeks, I kind of feel like I did.

(Of course, sitting in a library doing research kind of helps…)