At ReaderCon, from the Other Side

July 28th, 2011

A very cool mention of me and Michael J. DeLuca at ReaderCon, in a con-report blog post by Black Gate magazine’s Website Editor C.S.E. Cooney.

Cheers, Claire! It was great to meet you too. :)

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People, and Interaction

July 26th, 2011

In a recent interview excerpted on the great fiction market listings site Duotrope, Sheila Williams, Editor of Asimov’s, repeated a couple great points about short story writing that I’ve heard before and often see handled poorly in the stories I read.

Most stories are underpopulated.

Many writers focus so closely on the main characters that the story ends up having very few other people in it; so few other people that the story feels weirdly vacant.  Focusing on the main characters is good, but any story that doesn’t have the characters alone still needs to feel like there are other people around.

I know of several ways to make a story feel realistically populated but without diluting the focus on the main characters.  One is to describe the ancillary characters or people as a group, rather than detailing them individually.  Like a gaggle of kids or a room packed full of rambling drunks.  Maybe with one exemplar kid or drunk given a bit of specific description.

Another way, that can work better but takes more space, is to give each ancillary character a tiny role or a tiny bit of stage time.  Lately I’ve been rereading George R.R. Martin’s brilliant epic fantasy A Game of Thrones.  In that famous opening scene when the family sons find the direwolf pups, I was struck by how several of the guards, who both were given names but not much more, had very brief roles in the conversation about whether to keep the pups.

They each had one line or maybe two, interspersed between the main characters’ dialog, and they were both arguing the same choice.  The main characters still were the major focus–Bran and Jon and Eddard had longer strings of dialog and were arguing more complicated facets of the choice.  But these two guards who had names and a line or two each made the scene feel realistically populated, as though there really was a large retinue traveling with these Stark nobles.

A lot of the tale can be told through the interaction of characters.

This is a variation on an idea that Nancy Kress said in her lecture at the Odyssey workshop a few years ago:  “Dialog should be the heart of most scenes.”

Her point was that dialog is the medium by which characters interact, and character interaction by definition is drama.  It shows how those characters feel and think.  It shows who they are as people.  And if the writer has set up the scene well to show the conflict, the interaction also shows what those characters want and what they might be willing to do to get it.

And dramatization is the most vivid and engaging way to show these things.  After all, Ms. Kress said, the second-oldest form of written storytelling in human civilization is stage plays.  Which of course are 100% dialog–100% characters interacting.

Obviously this won’t work for all stories or all scenes–sometimes, characters are alone.  But one reason Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” works so well for me is that the protagonist, who has no one else around him, keeps talking to his dog.  So we get to see his personality and goals dramatized even though he’s alone.

People, and interaction.  Two things that make real life interesting and complex, and can do the same for fiction.

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A Great ReaderCon

July 19th, 2011

I had a blast at ReaderCon last weekend.  Among the many, many highlights:

-the Naked City anthology reading Thursday night in Cambridge, with readings by John Crowley, Jeffrey Ford, my buddy Matt Kressel, and post-reading beers with Jed Berry and Mike DeLuca

-panels Friday, including on anthologies

-drinking Friday with many, including Claire H., Maggie R., Jenn B., Renee B., and Mike DeLuca

-my reading Saturday morning–I read “The Very Strange Weird of Endart Sscowth” in the current Space and Time and a bit of my Homeless Moon chapbook 4 story.  A nice crowd, who were treated to back-issue copies of Space and Time #108 and #114 and Weird Tales 347, all containing stories by me.

-the BCS reading Saturday afternoon, with Matt Kressel, Margaret Ronald, Marko Kloos, and Mike DeLuca

-dinner and more drinking with many, including Marko, Chang T., Abby, Dave B., Claire H., Maggie, Jenn, Renee, and Mike DeLuca (anyone detecting a theme? :) )

-chats with and meeting of cool people, like Leah Bobet, Ellen Datlow, and Ellen Kusher

-drinking Sunday and Monday with Mike DeLuca (that theme again…)

It was awesome, all of it–fascinating discussion and delightful fellowship.  Woo!

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At ReaderCon This Weekend

July 11th, 2011

I will be at ReaderCon, the literary spec-fic con held in Boston, this weekend.

I’ll be giving a reading of my own fiction Sat. at 11:30 AM.  I haven’t dicided yet which of my recent publications  to read from–“Very Strange Weird” in the recent Space and Time, “The Halberdier, by Moonlight” forthcoming in On Spec, which I read at Balticon, and possibly “Of Casting Pits and Caustic Salts,” in the current Heroic Fantasy Quarterly.

There is also a Beneath Ceaseless Skies reading Sat. afternoon at 2:30 PM.  It will include writers such as Mike DeLuca, Margaret Ronald, Matt Kressel, and more.

And as always, there will be great stuff in the dealer’s room and lots of cool panels.  One I’m really looking forward to is Liz Hand’s lecture on Tolkien elements in black metal, the Viking-influenced very dark-themed metal which is mostly from Norway and Sweden.  My metal tastes run more toward the technical side (Meshuggah, coincidently also from Sweden), but I am familiar with the black metal bands and their heavy Tolkien influence.

And, also as always, I will be in the pub rather frequently. :)  If you see me there or in the halls, or at my reading or the BCS reading, feel free to say hello!

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