Meanwhile, Back at the Emperor’s Palace…

Opinions are divided about series, both at the novel and short story level. Readers love spending time with characters they already know and like, but some purists think they’re the death of the genre (in which case sf/f has been dead for a loooong time). One accusation that’s leveled at series, novel and story length both, is laziness. “Once the background is established and you’re familiar with it, that’s half the work. You’re doing paint-by-numbers after that.”

Yeah. Right.

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Our Text For Today

While I’m rather fond of the idea of blogging in general, it has some serious limitations and now and then you wonder if the time couldn’t be spent more productively somewhere else. The very thought of which makes me realize that I’m enjoying this, and so probably won’t stop to do something more productive, for I am a sybaritic creature by nature. Besides, if one is in the mood to get up on a soapbox as I am at the moment, there’s no substitute.

I’ve been thinking about and remembering what it was like when I was trying to get started. And how I wished there had been someone there to lay down the basics for me. I don’t mean Heinlein’s 5 basics (and if you don’t know these, you should. Practice your Google-fu), I mean the other basics. It would have saved several precious years of floundering around. To that end, I’m going to post my list of the Five Things I Wish I’d Known Then: Continue reading

Just What the (Bleep) Do I think I’m Doing?

The story opening I hated yesteraday maybe now looks like it still has some life. Or maybe I’m kidding myself now. Maybe I just didn’t want to face the effort I knew this story is going to require. Maybe…

This is not really a proper post, it’s more of a footnote. A bit of errata for whatever cumulative inertia this blog is responsible for, and it is a simple statement of fact to you to use or discard–I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.

There. I said it. I have no clue about writing. Not one. I like to speculate and ponder and take this position or that, and it’s all good fun but none of it changes the basic fact that every story is different, every book is different. Every one of them is its own thing and not the thing you worked on last time. It can’t necessarily be conquered by the weapons you used last. Necessarily? I’d bet on it. Those tools may be comfortable to your hand now, their workings and purpose comfortably familiar. Of course you want to use them again, but they just don’t work. Why not? Because last time you needed a hammer but now you need a chisel. And a hammer, no matter how hard you pound, is not now and never will be a chisel. Just as simple and just as diabolically difficult as that.

People wonder why some writers drink so much, but I never do wonder that.

What’s astonishing to me is that we all don’t.

Embracing Your Inner Butcher

Earlier this morning I killed a couple of paragraphs. Perfectly innocent little things, well written, even revealed a smidge of character in them. Not enough. They weren’t pulling their weight, the little deadbeats, and now they’re gone. In the next session, whenever that is, I have already planned which section of the story I mean to attack. There will be more carnage, more innocent words spilled. It will not, however, be murder. It will be self-defense.

Long, hectoring tirade follows. Proceed at your own risk. Continue reading

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