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Sunday, January 25, 2015

TAKING STOCK - DO YOU HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY?

I CAME ACROSS THIS YOUTUBE INTERVIEW, featuring Robert McKee on bigthink.com. Although he refers to screen-writing, just about everything he says can be applied to fiction writing in general. He talks about handling exposition with subtlety, writing with passion, with confidence and control. Also, how a writer can be superb at his craft, but if he offers no insight into the human condition or human behavior (even through the guise of the 'alien' or 'other' in SF), the writing falls short.

I'd like to add my own thoughts to his: writing honestly takes courage, because the best writing is about taking risks. This not only applies to what the public at large may think, but what your writing peers may think. As writers, we all come to a place where eventually, we must decide - do we repeat what has already been done because it sells, or do we push ourselves to bring a personal point of view to the world?

BAD WRITERS HAVE NOTHING TO SAY


Robert maintains his website at http://mckeestory.com/.

- Susan.

Monday, January 19, 2015

NO ONE OWES ME A LIVING....

I HAD A COFFEE WITH AN ACQUAINTANCE the other day. She had invited me and others to her home for an after class get-together. Unfortunately, I was the only one who could attend, so I suggested we put it off. She wouldn't hear of it. My acquaintance is an interesting woman - intelligent, sophisticated, and a professor of English. She teaches Can Lit.

I have my own biases about Can Lit. As a genre writer, I find Can Lit a bit mundane for my tastes. I suspect she might find my work in speculative fiction over the top and sensational. At one point, she quoted a writer of whom she was fond (I can't remember who it was), saying that 'no one made him write. Nor did he expect anyone to pay him for a living.' I found the comment a little odd at the time, but I didn't question it. After all, she had invited me into her home for coffee.

In hindsight, I found myself thinking about this comment in more depth.

As writers, we understand the drive that makes us want to write. It comes from a variety of sources: the need to create being foremost, but also a desire to say something worthwhile, to entertain, to affect, to make our mark. If we are being honest, ego also plays a part.. If it didn't, we wouldn't care when others reject our work, nor would we shout from the rooftops when our stories are accepted for publication. I found myself wondering if her comment came from a less than generous source.

We don't expect people to pay us for our living, although it's nice when they do. We write, anyway, no matter what we are paid. That said, it is also important to be valued for what we do, because so often, we aren't. (In terms of popularity, hockey players get more respect here in Canada than artists do.) Very few of us are able to make our livings as writers, yet we persist. My friend thought she might like to try writing some day, she had never attempted it. I found myself hoping her comment didn't come from a place of envy or entitlement. Sometimes, those who can't or don't, envy those who do.

But the bigger problem that such a comment points to is this: we often don't respect ourselves as writers or see the great value in what we do. We write for scraps - for next to no money, or for shreds of praise. If one of us comments 'no one makes me write. I don't expect to be paid for a living' then maybe we need to reconsider our worth. I've said it before on this blog. Imagine a world without story, without music, without art. That is what all of us who attempt to create, contribute to.

Maybe we should expect more, demand more. Not give away our art for free. Granted, when we are learning, we need to make allowances for our apprenticeships. If we don't respect ourselves as artists, worthy of being paid and valued, how can we expect others to? Furthermore, if others outside our minority don't respect and support us as a community, we at least need to respect and support ourselves.

- Susan.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

THE DUNNING-KRUGER BUMP (or HOW to SUCK LESS in the LONG RUN) - GUEST POST by BARBARA GEIGER

MY LAST Letter to the Slush Pile #21 GENERATED QUITE A BIT OF DISCUSSION on the I Read On Spec Facebook page. Because of it, I invited anyone who had participated to share their thoughts here on Suzenyms. I'm very pleased that Barbara Geiger took me up on my offer. Barbara is one of the brightest and most thoughtful writers I know. Twenty years ago, I had the sense that my writing wasn't at the level I wanted it to be; thirty years ago, I didn't even have the sense of how far I needed to go. There is an actual term for this - the Dunning-Kruger Effect. I'm sure you'll find what Barbara has to say, and the links she's included, very enlightening. (Thanks, Barbara, for sharing this with us):

THE DUNNING-KRUGER BUMP (or HOW to SUCK LESS in the LONG RUN) 
by Barbara Geiger:

If you are a writer and are not getting the response you want from your texts, please watch this amazing video taken from Ira Glass talking about the gap between your taste for good fiction and your ability to produce it. It’s amazing how well he articulates the frustration between knowing what good is, and not being able to create it yet.
But the gap is less obvious to some. Writers are not immune to the Dunning-Kruger Effect. You can read the article, but in simple words it means people who are bad at things do not understand just how bad they are at the thing they are bad at. And I’m not wagging my fingers from the comfort of the other side of Ira Glass’s Gap. I’m still climbing the gap myself.
When I think back to my early twenties, I remember how absolutely certain I was about the craft of writing.  I did improve in those five years, and I did see some publishing successes, but there were far more rejections than acceptances. I played to my strengths in plotting, but I never went back to do any serious rewriting and my sentence structure often resulted in word salad.
It took sitting around a critique circle with twelve other writers on a really hot August day for almost seven hours to realize we all could figure out exactly wasn’t working in other people’s writing, but we weren’t showing what we all knew in our own. We could have handed our critiques to the person on our left, and any feedback would have been accurate.
I was a rule-breaker except “there are no rules” which I embraced whole-heartedly. I got off the Dunning-Kruger bump by really studying why a story failed, something that is almost impossible to do by reading published work that has most of the mistakes edited out. Around that time, a small group of SFWA  members wrote a sting manuscript to catch a vanity publishing house trying to pass off as legit by writing the worst book in the world. Watching good writers writing badly on purpose is worth the price of admission, but Teresa Nielsen Hayden didn’t torture similes, extend them into next week, or drape her chapter fifteen in purple. In her chapter, to paraphrase, the main character had supper, talked with his girlfriend for a while, watched a movie, and went home to bed. For Hayden, the worst possible writing wasn’t so-bad-it’s-good. Terrible writing was, and is, boring writing, in which nothing significant happens.
For those of us caught on the bump, getting down off it can take as little as realizing that no one is trying to fool you into believing that writing is any more complicated than it has to be. Show don’t tell works on all levels from the sentence structure to your statement on humanity. Cutting or editing anything that doesn’t belong keeps the writing tight, and keeping the conflict in the foreground as much as possible keeps the readers attention. The world doesn’t have to blow up; ending a marriage can be cosmically devastating to the right character.
Show don’t tell works on the page when you’re describing something, but it also works in the plot where you show the reader what’s important to the world, instead of stopping the action during an emotional scene to tell the reader what’s going on. It even works on the thematic level when you’re showing the reader what you have to say about the human condition.
Writers could spend years, if not decades, on the bump, doing the exact same thing over and over again and expecting different results. A friend of mine said she didn’t start selling short stories until she actually started reading short stories, even though she’d been told since the very beginning to read the magazine she wanted to sell to. I didn’t start selling until I realized rewriting is more important than the first draft. Deleting words used to feel like cutting off a limb. But if they are extraneous to the plot, it’s not even an outpatient procedure. It’s snipping off the threads on an itchy tag.
Writing needs both talent and skill, of which you’re born with a finite amount of one, and an infinite source of the other. If you are not where you want to be, but are actively working at improving yourself any way you possibly can, there’s absolutely nothing standing in your way. If you think marketing is the only difference between a best-seller and a trunk novel, then you are the thing standing in your way. Some people spend their whole life on the Dunning-Kruger bump. The view is great, but it gets them nowhere.

Barbara's Bio: Barbara didn’t learn that she had lived in three out of the four Northern Alberta towns that had a known or suspected Wendigo attack until well after she’d moved south to Lethbridge. She grew up loving ghost stories and pony books, and spent most of her summers on the British Columbia coast, where she fell in love with the ocean.
As Angela Fiddler, she has written The Master of the Lines series as well as Cy and his sex demon problem books. As Barbara Geiger, she has written The Tempest trilogy, starting with Coral Were His Bones, which exists in the same universe of the Middle Hill series, starting with Changeling, as well as various other novellas and short stories.
When she’s not blogging about the exploits of selkies, sex demons, and vampires, she writes about making bread at barbarageiger.me/blog.
You can contact Barbara (or Angela) by email at barbara_geiger@icloud.com.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

LETTERS to the SLUSH PILE #21:

Dear -----, ------, and -------,

I wanted to write you as a group. Your stories are quite good, but there are a few niggling things you all do that I wanted to point out. These are small technical mistakes I also used to commit years ago before they were shown to me, so naturally, I'm very aware of them. In the examples that follow, the writing isn't as tightly written as it could be. Which begs the question - why are editors always harping on writing 'tight'? There are two basic reasons for this: one - space in a printed book or magazine is limited. This doesn't apply so much to digital work, but the rule still stands. Two: tight writing is work that has been distilled. It's stronger, more potent. It moves along faster, because there is nothing to block its flow.

I've taken the following examples from your work and have modified them slightly for anonymity's sake. You might think about rewriting these:
1). With his eyes, he made out the tiny figure climbing the hill. (Why point out 'with his eyes'? Isn't that obvious?)
2). Jack felt warmth spread throughout him. (This one isn't as bad as #1 above, but usually, there isn't any need to indicate someone feeling something. You could as well say, 'Warmth spread throughout him.'
3). There was a fireplace, for wood only. (What else would the fireplace be for? Spaghetti? If it isn't important, don't mention it.)
The next examples are about body language. Be careful with the images you present, especially if they can be taken literally.
1). She threw up her hands in frustration. (The visual here is throwing up or vomiting. I know what you mean, but the mind sometimes interprets such phrases before the logic sets in. Which means a snag in reading flow.)
2). John gave his head a shake. (By the same reasoning above, I imagined John removing his head and rattling it like a maraca. This tendency to visualize might come from reading a lot of science fiction and fantasy, but what can I say? The point is, you do not want me to break the reading flow with a ridiculous image. It would be better to say, 'John shook his head.')
3). Her presence challenged his man-pride. (Say whaaat? You absolutely do not want my mind to go there. Find a better way to describe his feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, or whatever.)
And finally, think about how you position dialogue. Sometimes, it's better to have one line of dialogue immediately followed by another, rather than to split the two lines with a short bit of internal reaction. Why? Because the prose moves faster. Here are two examples, almost identical in rendering. In my opinion, the second one works better:
"Don't deny it! I know you're behind Frederick's death. We found your dirk beside his closet!"

He had lost the knife, that much was true. But anyone could have set it in Frederick's chamber in order to accuse him. Most likely, it was Barnaby, who stood challenging him now, before all the court. He had drunk too much the night before and Madelaine had waylaid him. Had she taken it? With sick insight, he knew it was so.
"That proves nothing! Only that someone put it there!"
Or:
"Don't deny it! I know you're behind Frederick's death. We found your dirk beside his closet."

"That proves nothing! Only that someone put it there!"
 He had lost the knife, that much was true. But anyone could have set it in Frederick's chamber in order to accuse him. Most likely, it was Barnaby, who stood challenging him now, before all the court. He had drunk too much the night before, and Madelaine had waylaid him. Had she taken it? With sick insight, he knew it was so. 
 To wrap up, think about what can be taken literally in your prose, what is redundant, and how you might better position dialogue.Think about creating an ease of reading and smooth flow.

- Susan.