Everything’s Conditional

Weird weather yesterday. First it snowed for fifteen minutes to a half hour, then the sun came out and melted the snow, then the clouds came back and it snowed again. Lather, rinse, repeat all day long. It felt something like being back in MS, getting the remnants of whatever latest hurricane had just pounded the coast. What we got further inland (other than wind) were bands of cloud and rain, one after the other until the storm completely dissipated. Substitute snow for rain and you get the same effect.

Speaking of conditions—other than weather—I’m going to talk a little about writing conditions, as in conditions favorable for getting something, anything, done. It’s a bit Captain Obvious to point out that this varies. Some people can work anywhere, such as a bookstore display window, which Harlan Ellison has famously done. Or in crowded, noisy coffee shops, which is so common as to be a cliché, these days. I’ve never needed an ivory tower myself, which is a darn good thing considering the rent. My only real need, however, I have to express as a negative.

I do not need a television screen anywhere within sight of me.

See, I was a TV baby, one of the generation that grew up after the darn things were ubiquitous. My earliest exposure to f/sf was not Ray Bradbury, Andre Norton, or Robert Heinlein. Nope. It was (really dating myself even more now) The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and Fireball XL-5 (to this day I can still sing that hokey theme song). Books came later, but at least they did arrive, thank goodness, but I never did completely escape the boob tube’s clutches. To this day, if one is on within sight of me it draws my attention, no matter what crap is on. I’m not proud of it, but that’s just the way it is. When I was a kid I would often do homework watching the Adam West Batman or Dark Shadows with no problem at all. However, I’ve tried writing in front of a TV and it’s just impossible. The best I ever managed was, while living in a small apartment, writing with my back turned to it where it functioned more like a radio. In that configuration I could turn it into background noise and get on with working. Anywhere in front of me? Forget about it, and that holds true even today.

There are times when it would be more social and certainly convenient to work in front of one of those things, but it’s just impossible. Which is why I have to keep a library/study room wherever I am with no TV in sight. Computer screen? No problem, even with video streaming available, since it’s not the same thing. A TV?

That would be a “no.”

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Face Value

 I’ve been thinking about the concept of surprise as it relates to fiction and specifically the relationship between writer and reader. Readers like to be surprised, as a general rule, but it has to be the right sort of surprise. We’re all familiar with the iconic “Twilight Zone” story where the payoff is an ironic twist. That works in small doses, but do it time and again and it becomes too much like a parlor trick everyone’s seen once too often. The punch goes away and the surprise is no longer surprising. I’ve talked about ending before, and how it has to be the “right” ending for the story. The right ending will always have a sense of inevitability about it, whether the reader sees it coming or not. But is it really better if they don’t? And, if so, what can be reasonably sacrificed to make that happen?

This is the balance that concerns me, because I find it’s one aspect of storytelling that we have to deal with all the time. Fiction is a consensus illusion created between the writer and the reader. As a writer you craft a dream that the reader, for a while, shares. Yet their experience reading will never be the same as yours writing. They will never quite see the characters as you do, and they will interpret intent and meanings with their own perspective. That’s not a problem, that’s just the way the game works and all writers have to be aware of it. But the writer who goes for surprise has to be especially aware of and, in a sense, manipulate that perspective, and the primary tools are omission and misdirection. Continue reading

Let it Snow…Within Reason

At the last writer’s group we got another assignment, but several people had to leave early and there wasn’t time to finish it, so we essentially got the challenge with a week to finish. So what would have been a piece of flash fiction grew into a 3300 word story that I wrote yesterday. I may want to do something else with this one, once I get the tweaks tweaked and the bugs debugged.  Working title is “Have a Good Day,” with a nod to Jerome Bixby. If you don’t get the reference, clearly you haven’t watched enough of the old Twilight Zone tv series. You’re also probably an infant. Continue reading