Archive for September, 2012

Do you groan about a story title’s inclusion in the text?

by on Sep.22, 2012, under Observations, Process

How often do you read a story and come across the title of the story in the text, and groan to yourself, thinking “Oh god, that was a horrible way to shove the title in?”

Apparently, this happens quite often. But I have done some analysis of this topic, and from what my limited testing shows, this may be an artifact of reader expectation. Let me share with you what I have observed, and then you tell me what you think. (continue reading…)

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Describe thyself, mortal!

by on Sep.21, 2012, under Process

One of the issues that I struggle with in writing is physically describing my point of view character. So very many readers come back with “I wish I knew what the protagonist looked like.”

This is a tricky subject. Gazing into a mirror is far too obvious, and will get snarly comments from editors. Switching to another point of view character is an easy habit, but many more of my readers would prefer me to use a single PoV character.

I’ve been googling around on this topic, and the Internet has spoken.
This is hard.

Unfortunately, that’s about all it has to say. The best I’ve got is to let the character interact with themselves in some manner that gives hints. Combing their hair, or tearing it out I guess is more likely in my stories.

In contrast, I was just listening to the Mary Robinette Kowal and others say in The Story Board, Episode 2 that it’s better to not describe the protagonist. That describing the protagonist takes away the reader’s ability to imagine themselves in that role. In doing so, I would need to choose to leave those readers unsatisfied.

If you are a writer, how do you tell the reader about the protagonist, through the protagonist’s eyes? Do you just leave it to the reader’s imagination?

If you are a reader, which do you prefer? Do you find that clearly described characters turn you off?

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Evolving the writer, Engaging the reader

by on Sep.19, 2012, under Process

When I think of how I have evolved as a writer, it is easy to see it as a staircase. Each jump, each step up in my writing ability came about due to a new understanding about what engaged the reader. Every time I learned what the reader wanted but did not get, or got but did not understand, my writing improved dramatically (as judged through the subsequent reviews of revisions or newer stories).

At this point in evolution, I’m not sure any other factor is involved in a writer’s growth. Most of the processes you learn in writing classes and workshops are tools to help the writer develop their vision. I can’t recall any of those tools being directly aimed at improving the writing output; the tools generally assist the writer in getting the job done.

This leads me to what I feel is an obvious conclusion: the only way to improve your writing is to put it in front of readers and get their response. The emotional engagement of the reader provides the only useful feedback from which to judge your output. And a reader who can elucidate which a certain piece really works for them, or really doesn’t work for them, provides the most valuable catalyst for growth as a I writer. For me, it seems to be the only catalyst.

Have you experienced something different? What works for you?

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Reading a story is like experiencing a role playing adventure

by on Sep.12, 2012, under Observations, Process

Very recently, a reviewer of one of my stories complained to me, “Reading this is like playing a role playing game. The reader has to advance up level by level.”

This statement was truly said to me as a complaint, although I still can’t figure it out. Should I should have given the reader a complete list of characters and a map of universe, prior to asking the reader to read the story? Do we ever get a map and character list prior to starting a story? Would you read a story that tried to give you all of this prior to the first paragraph?

It’s been 10 days since that comment, and I still can’t figure out what the basis of the complaint was. To me a well told story is where you the reader starts with a tight focus on a single scene, and expands outward as you learn more. Is this not the brilliance of story telling, such that a good story will tease us forward, into the darkness in hopes of learning more?

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Review: The Big Short by Michael Lewis

by on Sep.01, 2012, under Reviews

The Big Short is a book that describes how the 2008 economic meltdown came to be, as told through the personal stories of several people directly involved in it. How some of them were directly involved in the fabrication of wealth that never existed at all. How one of them became fabulously rich betting against the major funds whose wealth disappeared overnight.

Alright, you might ask, what does this have to do with Science Fiction? That’s a good question. No, I am not taking on the review of books of politics or economics. I am reviewing this book because I feel that this book is a case study, a must read book for aspiring authors.

As an aspiring author, this is a book you must read three times.

Once: to read the content. If you are in any manner involved or care about economics, this book will be very upsetting to you. Just read it all the way through. And throw it. And yell at it. You will.

Second time: Sit back and admire how well this story is told. Economics is a pretty dry subject. Yet you were throwing the book and yelling about it, weren’t you? Examine how this story is told. Examine how Michael Lewis engaged you in the story.

Final time: Examine how Michael Lewis engaged you in the characters. Some of these characters are real bastards. Some of them scorned you and the money you’d invested or left supposedly safe in their organizations. And yet he makes these characters real to you, he engages you in their story. He makes you care.

In short, Michael Lewis gave you a story with no heroes–only villains and a few unlikeable anti-heroes, and yet you were would up tight in the plot. This is impressive, and there’s a lot to learn here.

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