Archive for September, 2006

A nifty quote

September 27th, 2006

Many thanks to Hugh Agnew for this:

Bunglers and pedants judge art according to genre; they approve of this and dismiss that genre, but instead of genres, the open-minded connoisseur appreciates only individual works.
 

[Franz Grillparzer (1791-1872), Austrian author. Notebooks and Diaries (1820).]

An Exercise (with Anecdote)

September 26th, 2006

Every now and then life hands you a weirdness, and if you’re a writer, it tends to get the juices flowing. I’ll give you an example from My Real Life in a second, but as a writers’ exercise, taking some odd thing you’ve observed and running with it is hard to beat. You see someone doing something weird and you want to figure out why, or what happens; you hear someone say something bizarre and you want to set the comment in a scene that makes sense. So:

This morning, as I was walking my dog, I saw another dog-walker, a middle aged woman in a sweatshirt and jeans. She had two dogs, off leash, and a plastic back in which to collect the feces. When the dogs were both done, and she had a large-ish bag of poop, she tied the bag off into a neat bundle, which she then left under the windshield wiper of one of the cars on the street. Then she walked off, apparently pleased with herself.

Doesn’t this make you want to know what came before or what happened after? So go write it!

John M. Ford, 1957-2006

September 25th, 2006

John M. Ford, poet and novelist, has died. Far too young. If you don’t know his work you have a great pleasure ahead of you. If you do know his work you will understand what a loss this is to the field of SF, and the world generally.

Openings–Types

September 23rd, 2006

A couple of conversations in various places on the net over the past week have prompted me to continue Kate Elliott’s discussion of openings. For purposes of discussion, here are some thoughts on what seems to work in today’s market. (My focus here is on novels.)

A hundred years ago, leisurely openings were de rigueur–especially when presented either in first person or by an omniscient narrator. It could, and did, take several pages just to meander over the time and setting.

Nowadays people want the story to get moving right away. There are three openings that I see a lot of in workshops that I think are tough to pull off. These are The Big Bang, On the Run, and The Book of Genesis.

“The Big Bang” is when the writer throws the big conflict of the entire book at the reader at once. Sometimes this opening is successful, but more often it seems that big stakes openings, especially battlefields and sacrifices and so forth, are tough because the reader has had no time to invest any interest in the characters. They don’t know why the blood and guts are flying, they don’t care about anybody, and so the effect is “too much too soon.”

The same with “On the Run.” This is the in medias res opening, wherein the action is already going on, and thus the reader not only has to pick up the story and characters, but has to assemble the clues to why and wherefore. This opening can be a real challenge, because it’s not always obvious who the reader is supposed to remember–which signposts are background painting and which are clues. When the backstory is filled in while characters are running, it takes an especially deft hand to keep the reader interest just above the frustration level, because such an opening requires an especially steep learning curve. Also, there is the temptation–and I think this is almost always a tough one to get readers past–to open with a “teaser” in medias res scene, then stop the action dead before the reader has a chance to gain any real interest–and loop in a long explanation of backstory. This looped-in datadump before anyone wants it has a deadly effect on pacing and interest-building. Again, it can be done, but it takes a very skilled pen to open with a bit of action among new names and faces, thrust the reader by force backward into years of history, and then restart again in the present.

Finally, we talked here before about “The Book of Genesis” opening in a discussion about Prologues. (And this one almost always is a prologue.) There have been too many books opening with the history of the Elder Gods, when everything was marvelous and good except for that one mean brother or sister who slinks around from the gitgo, does something nasty, gets tossed into the godly klink for a few hundred or thousand years–and then gets out, swearing vengeance and all manner of Evile. So the story is about who gets to whack him/her back into the slammer with their ring/sword/power of Destiny. This used to be a popular opening, but its very popularity is now making it a tough sell.

Traditional openings that are easier on writer and reader include Waking Up, Discovery, the Interview, the Conference, the Journey . This Journey is not the Quest, but a headlong action scene to get some small goal accomplished that lets us see setting, character, some motivation and need: let’s say a big war is imminent, and in fact that’s the main conflict of the story. The Journey opening is the main character’s desperate run around her village packing to leave, where we meet everyone, and assemble clues about what’s coming as we follow her, before the bad guys even get on the scene and kick off the main action. By then, we should care about our heroine and her doughty friends.

Waking Up is an old cliche, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be used–if something happens. If the protagonist finds on waking that he is not where he went to sleep. Or if she wakes up and finds someone on the next pillow who wasn’t there before. Or he wakes up and discovers that when he sneezes, the opposite wall explodes. But waking up and then meandering through bath, dressing, breakfast, and a normal morning is as leisurely (and as deadly for attracting readers) as the old-fashioned openings, unless the writer has an extraordinarily stylish voice. (This especially goes for opening with Dreams of Portent before we’ve even met a character.)
“Discovery“ is related to that last one. The character begins with a mundane action–briefly setting the scene and time–and then Discovers the Magic Tieclip. Or a secret power. Or overhears a conversation between a brace o’ bad guys.

“Interview” and “Conference” are not action scenes, they are Reaction openings, but they are great for getting data across. Interview is when two characters open by discussing whatever–again, it need not be the main conflict, but it has to be some kind of conflict. A small but urgent need is like a simple fishing pole and hook nipping in the small fish–it gets the action going faster than the Big Kahuna, which requires a complicated ship-load of data and explanation. So, for example, if the story is a big war, two minions are standing in the castle hallway trying to figure out who has to take the message in to the Evil King. They argue, and as they argue, we learn a lot about the world and the characters before the Evil King learns that the Hero’s land is not going to pay their triple taxes this year, which requires him to send his Army of Darkness to lay waste to the world.

The “Conference” opening is pretty much the same as the “Interview” but includes many characters. This one can verge on being problematical, like the “On the Run”–but if the camera begins with a couple of characters and then gradually widens to add others, as well as facts needed to kick off the story, it can be a successful opening. In fact, this opening was made famous by Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice–we don’t get a huge, leisurely ramble, but we begin with a Conference. This opening is astonishingly brisk: the question of whether or not the father will call on the new young man in town introduces the heroine’s family with a small problem that seques beautifully into the main thrust of the book.

Cover Art

September 23rd, 2006

Just got the first jpg for the Flesh and Spirit (Roc, May 2007) cover – very nice. The artist is Luis Royo. Of course the fellow on the cover isn’t quite the way I imagine Valen. You have to see him slightly older, a bit more world-battered, a lot more good looking, and having a definite spark of mischief in his eye, despite all the troubles he encounters. Flesh and Spirit cover art

Writers’ Conferences and Lightning

September 23rd, 2006

Emerging briefly from under the deadline rock…

A couple of weeks ago, I participated in the Colorado Gold Writers Conference in Denver. I gave a workshop on designing and writing vivid fictional worlds. I did a question-and-answer session addressing all sort of topics, as well as some individual writing issues. I spent a lot of time “fraternizing.” Had a great autographing session. The hardest part was the ten-minute “writer-of-the-year” speech I had to give on opening night…which led me to think about the place of writers’ conferences (aka writers’ workshops).

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She Saved The World A Lot 1

September 20th, 2006

Considering the idea that genre fare is ‘merely’ entertainment, and therefore we who create it and consume it aren’t bothered with real world issues.

Yet, you know?  it does seems that often genre looks at real world issues more successfully than some other forms do, sometimes, for us who are living with these issues, experiencing the conflicts and terrible troubles as they are developing and creating consequences in real time and our real lives.

Last night I watched the last episodes of Buffy’s last season, season 7.  What happened is that I watched the last episodes back-to-back more than once.  Why?

Partly because so much was going on, it’s hard to parse it all at one go, and I was trying to get a handle on it all, finally, and for once.

Partly because the events resonate deeply now, post Katrina.  The scenes that were of Sunnydale’s population evacuating, without any official assistance or order, or seemingly any notice from anywhere else of what was going on, were particularly affecting, as were the scenes of the aftermath of the evacuation: Squatting in somebody’s home, who is defending it with his shotgun; the power going out, because those who kept the infrastructure functioning also had to leave.  None of this had yet happened to a major American city when these episodes were shot.  But all of it did happen, 2 years later (Season 7, ep 19, Empty Spaces, broadcast in April of 2003), and more too.  At least no one forced the poor of  Sunnydale to stay inside to die of flood, thirst, hunger, exposure, lack of medical facilities, as was done to so many trying to get out of New Orleans.  Continue Reading »

Interviews of Deep Genre Authors

September 16th, 2006

Here are a few recent interviews of Deep Genre authors that have appeared online. Go on, you know you want to read this stuff.
David Louis Edelman was interviewed by Rick Kleffel for The Agony Column and by SFFWorld.

Carol Berg is interviewed at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers.

An interview with Sherwood Smith can be found at SciFi.com.

Alternative Reality Web Zine interviews Kate Elliott.

I’ll post more when I get more links.

J.K. Rowling Challenges Airport Security

September 14th, 2006

British author J.K. Rowling says she won an argument with airport security officials in New York to carry the manuscript of the final ”Harry Potter” book as carryon baggage.

 Love, C.

What’s wrong with this Sentence?

September 12th, 2006

Many thanks to Erin Underwood, who sent along this charming example of academic prose.  She found it in Richard Lanham’s, REVISING PROSE,Third Ed. NY: Macmillan, 1992.

This first short paragraph is Lanham’s:
“A university professor, in an article accurately titled “On 
the Weakness of Language in the Human Sciences,” offers this 
spasmodic set of thises, that’s and whats:

“Now what I would like to know specifically is this: what is
the meaning of this “as” that Heidegger emphasizes so
strongly when he says that “that which is explicitly
understood” – that is, that which is interpreted – “has the
structure of something as something”? My opinion is that what
Heidegger means is that the structure of interpretation
(Auslegung) is figural rather than, say, intentional. “

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