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Tag Archives: writing F&SF
(This originally appeared on the SFWA blog.)
Goodreads is the largest reader community site in the world, with over thirteen million members. Goodreads was recently acquired by Amazon, creating worries that the site would change, but Amazon has said they do not intend to make changes. Users can track their reading, find or make book recommendations, and discuss what they’re reading. Goodreads lists self-published books as well as those from professional presses.
Once you’ve mastered the basics of getting words on a page and moving characters around through situations, there’s some things that (in my experience) the majority of writers need to focus on. Examples are narrative grammar, paragraphing strategies, trimming excess from sentences, and getting inside a character’s head. Here, I’m going to discuss the last of those.
A lot of this is taken from correspondance with my student Hasnain. He’d asked about story structures, particularly Freitag’s Triangle, and we’d discussed where the triangle occurs in Junot Diaz’s story, Fiesta 1980. In looking at his most recent story, I’d said I thought he needed to get inside his main character’s head more.
If you’re friend or family, you may know something about it, or even have read one of the many, many earlier drafts.
And I’m really happy with it, but holy cow, is it hard to rewrite a novel. Because you’ve got to manage it all in your head while working with smaller parts of it.
Writers should pay attention to our own process. Sometimes we’re reluctant to do so. We worry that like the centipede in the story who stops being able to walk after thinking about exactly how she does it, looking at our own process will damage or kill it. A Schrödinger’s cat: we know we’re doing something, but if we look to prove that, it’ll vanish.
This is not actually true. Looking will, most probably, not kill it. If you are the rare exception that cannot look at their process without damaging it, a brief examination will let you know this without damaging anything too much. Maybe. There are no guarantees in writing advice.
But if you are part of the vast majority that WILL learn from it, what will you gain?
Last week in the Writing F&SF Stories class, we talked about dialogue. This is a basic tool for a writer, one whose importance cannot be ignored.
A metaphor that I was exposed to at Clarion West (now nearly a decade ago) still works beautifully for me, and it’s one I use when teaching: the idea of the writer’s toolbox.
In my mind’s eye, it’s a big red metal tool chest, small enough to be carried around, large enough that you wouldn’t want to HAVE to carry it around all the time. Inside, drawers lift out to reveal neatly packed devices and tools, each in their own padded slot.
There’s a blade capable of lopping off awkward paragraphs, and sharper, tinier words designed for work at the sentence level, trimming beginnings till they catch a reader like a fish hook and pull them into the story. There’s a box of punctuation marks, with a special slot for the semicolons. There’s the intricate device of an unreliable narrator, calculated to wobble like a gyroscope yet still remain true to the story’s course. There’s a set of filters, each one a specific point of view, each letting you cast a section in a different light. And a layer of ornamental gadgetry: epigraphs and scraps of poetry. And a valuable gimlet, capable of drilling down to a character’s motivation: the question, “What does s/he WANT?”
We’re currently covering characters in the Writing F&SF class, so I thought I’d pull out a little from my notes.
Some simplistic stories have characters that seem like placeholders, as though any individual could fit into that slot. Fairy tales, for instance, tend to have generic characters: the princess, the prince, the witch. One delightful strategy for working with them, in fact, is to pick a character and flesh them out to the point where they shape the story.
Characters need to do this. They need to influence the story and make it one that could only happen to them.
I had a wonderful time talking to Shaun Duke and Jen Zink of the Skiffy and Fanty Show last week. The podcast is up here. If you enjoy it and use iTunes, show them a little love with a rating on there.
A reason the interview wa so enjoyable was that they asked really interesting, incisive questions about the stories in Near + Far, in that way a writer desires and dreads at the same time, where they’re seeing some of your psyche’s underpinnings shaping the stories that you create. I’ve been mulling over some of those questions since then, and was thinking about one on the bus home the other day.
These are my notes from the presentation at MidSouthCon 30, 2012m which was great. I suggest taking it from Michael rather than using these notes, which are a poor substitute at best. You can find the CD on his website. That said, here are the notes. I should say that they’re less about how to write a novel in 21 days than how to plan a novel in 21 days through a series of exercises intended to increase knowledge of character, world, and plot. Continue reading
So the title of this looks like I’m going to talk about something useful, but actually, I’m pretty much going to gush about Joe Abercrombie’s writing. I hadn’t read anything by him, but was at Confusion last January and had enough people recommend his writing (and watched a writer I admire go total fanboy when confronted with Joe) that I picked up THE HEROES to try it out and was immediately blown away.