Writing and Other Afflictions

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

Monthly Archives: January 2012

There’s Always A Reason

One of the things I try to get out of my own writing and get people to look at in theirs is “filler phrases,” things we are used to saying that have spread beyond places where they actually mean something. Here’s another one I came across recently: “for some reason.”

In narrative, this is almost always bad filler. In dialogue, yes, people say it. But if you really don’t know the reason, there are more elegant ways to say it that don’t make the reader’s eyes slide over the words. It especially irritates me when there IS a reason. As in:

“The lights went out. Maria screamed for some reason.”

She’s screaming BECAUSE THE LIGHTS WENT OUT. It’s okay, you can just say, “Maria screamed.”

Most often I see this when people want to justify a character action but can’t build a proper justification for it. “Coming out of the restaurant after lunch, for some reason I decided I wanted a candy bar.”

It’s okay to want a candy bar after lunch. You can just say, “I wanted a candy bar.”

Or: “Coming out of the restaurant after lunch, for some reason I jumped into traffic and took my clothes off.”

Uh. No. Justify that one. If the character is being mind-controlled, then we should feel his/her sense of panic at doing things s/he doesn’t understand. If s/he is not being mind-controlled, then there IS A REASON.

There’s always a reason. “For some reason” is lazy thinking and lazy writing. Get it out of your prose.

Vitality

Via Josh Lewis, this impressive essay by Raymond Chandler, which starts out being about detective fiction and ends up being just about fiction and life. It is long but worthwhile, and here is my favorite paragraph out of all of it. If you tilt your head just a little bit, it can be about SF or fantasy or furry fiction as well.

In her introduction to the first Omnibus of Crime, Dorothy Sayers wrote: “It (the detective story) does not, and by hypothesis never can, attain the loftiest level of literary achievement.” And she suggested somewhere else that this is because it is a “literature of escape” and not “a literature of expression.” I do not know what the loftiest level of literary achievement is: neither did Aeschylus or Shakespeare; neither does Miss Sayers. Other things being equal, which they never are, a more powerful theme will provoke a more powerful performance. Yet some very dull books have been written about God, and some very fine ones about how to make a living and stay fairly honest. It is always a matter of who writes the stuff, and what he has in him to write it with. As for literature of expression and literature of escape, this is critics’ jargon, a use of abstract words as if they had absolute meanings. Everything written with vitality expresses that vitality; there are no dull subjects, only dull minds. All men who read escape from something else into what lies behind the printed page; the quality of the dream may be argued, but its release has become a functional necessity. All men must escape at times from the deadly rhythm of their private thoughts. It is part of the process of life among thinking beings. It is one of the things that distinguish them from the three-toed sloth; he apparently–one can never be quite sure–is perfectly content hanging upside down on a branch, and not even reading Walter Lippmann. I hold no particular brief for the detective story as the ideal escape. I merely say that all reading for pleasure is escape, whether it be Greek, mathematics, astronomy, Benedetto Croce, or The Diary of the Forgotten Man. To say otherwise is to be an intellectual snob, and a juvenile at the art of living.

First Rejection of the New Year

DailySF rejected the story I submitted to them. C’est la vie! I am sure I will accumulate more rejections as the year goes on, because I am going to be sending out more stories. :)

Clarion Accepting Applications

I’m a bit late on this–like a month–but the Clarion Writers Workshop was one of the best experiences of my writing career (up there with first published novel), and they are accepting applications for the 2012 class. What you get: six weeks with people you already know are amazing (check out the lineup of instructors!) and people you will discover are amazing (your Clarion classmates will always be part of your writing life); hopefully renewed confidence in having your work taken seriously by your peers and instructors; unparalleled insight into what makes a good story, both from the instructor lectures and from reading and working to critique over a hundred stories written by your peers. Plus you get to live near the San Diego beach for a month and a half.

There is also Clarion West, which has its own impressive lineup of instructors and takes place in lovely Seattle. All the things I hear from it are positive.

If you are serious about your writing and think you are close to being publishable, you owe it to yourself to at least apply to one of the above.