Posts Tagged ‘BCS’

Reader Guesses, Coloring Our Expectations

Friday, May 18th, 2012

Marie Brennan, author of a series of historical-fantasy novels and a bunch of short stories, including multiple ones in my magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies, had a really neat post on the SFWA website a few weeks ago about audience expectations and reactions in terms of theories or guesses about plot twists or revelations.

She talks about how those reader guesses can change over the course of experiencing a work; how the author or the plot sometimes does meet the theory or otherwise react to it, and how we writers when reading may experience that more acutely than most audience members.

I really like her concept of “third-order (plot) answers”:

A lot of mysteries have an obvious culprit, and then a character who is, if you know your narrative conventions, the obvious alternative to the obvious culprit. I like mysteries that go one step further.

That’s what I try to do in my plots too.  My story “Of Casting Pits and Caustic Salts” (published in Heroic Fantasy Quarterly) had several plots twists.  An older story of mine didn’t seem to have been very good at hiding who the culprit was, so with “Salts,” I tried especially hard to offer multiple culprits for each event of unknown cause.

Not so much an obvious culprit and an obvious alternate, as Brennan explains, but two or even more possible culprits. And multiple possible reasons why those culprits might have done that thing. “Salts” is a spy story, so the twists were important.  And to me, because character is always the key, the characters’ possible motivations for perhaps having done those twist events were even more important.

So I think the idea of reader expectations and theorizing of culprits is very important for us writers to consider as we craft the story. We want the reader to enjoy the read–I’m with Brennan in that the best plot twists are the ones you see coming half a second before the reveal. We need to make those twists engaging beforehand, yet still surprising once they happen.

“Demo Love,” Rewrites, and First Draft Spark

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

One of my music buddies years ago coined a neat term: “demo love.”

Sometimes the first version of a song you ever hear is not the original but some other band’s cover of it.  Then later you hear the original version, by the original artist.  But the cover version you heard first is so indelibly impressed on your mind that the original never sounds right.  Your lasting impression of that song is dominated by the other version that you heard first.

Sometimes for the better–Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower” takes Dylan’s original to a new level. But sometimes for the worse (I pity all the kids in the late 80s who the first version of “Purple Haze” they ever heard was Winger’s cover…).

My buddy has a home studio and records lots of bands. He noticed this phenomenon with demo recordings.  Bands usually record a demo version of their songs first–to get the ideas on tape; to help plan their approach for when they record a real, fancy or polished version. That demo was the first version of those songs you ever heard, and sometimes it would stick so indelibly in your mind that you had “demo love”–you always liked the demo better, even compared to the later fancy polished recording.

I think there’s another reason that demo love happens, in both music and fiction.  First drafts often have some subconscious spark; some bit of raw inspiration or “quan” (cf. Jerry McGuire). There’s something very cool in there that’s more than the sum of the parts.

And sometimes when writers aren’t careful on a rewrite, that spark gets lost.

I see this happen in stories rewritten for BCS. One cause I think is writers rushing the rewrite. They spent months writing the story; then they spend thirty minutes on the rewrite.  The new insertions don’t have the same spark as the rest of the story–maybe they don’t match the story’s voice, or they’re inconsistent with the tone of the character, or any number of things.

Sometimes I see writers adding a lot of new stuff.  Bigger or longer changes to me means more risk of spoiling the original voice.

Another cause I think is writers not making a dedicated effort to match the voice that the previous draft has.  We writers often get into an odd “head space” when writing a story; a mental state colored not only by the character and the story but also by who we are on that day; what we’re thinking about or dealing with. I think it takes a deliberate effort to recapture that same “head space” when you’re making insertions into that story.

This is why I pretty much beg the writers I give rewrite requests to to take their time with the rewrite.  All the time they want.  However much time the story needs. And to make their changes or insertions as small as they can–the smallest possible tweak that will fix whatever the problem is. And to do all they can to match the same voice that the original had.

So for rewrites, demo love can be a good thing. To help you preserve whatever innate spark the demo had, that you (or the editor!) fell in love with.

Take a Look at Some Less-Known

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

I’ve been trying to alert people to the Hugo nominations deadline this Sunday and the stuff from Beneath Ceaseless Skies that’s Hugo eligible; now I have to remember to send in my own nominations. :)

Neil Clarke, Hugo-winning editor and tireless advocate for the field of semipro zines, had a cool tweet yesterday that he hopes to see more new blood represented in the field of finalists this year, and another listing some of the quality semipro zines that have never made it to the finalist ballot.

I agree completely.  Of course, I do have a horse in this race myself: BCS is eligible for Best Semiprozine, and according to reviewer/editor Rich Horton, we publish more total fiction than any other online mag.

But leaving that aside, there are at least a dozen other less-noticed semipro zines doing great work. And the ballot in past years has seemed to feature the same magazines a lot.  (Glancing at for example shows Locus and Interzone on the ballot every year in the last ten years and Ansible seven of the last ten.)

So in recent years, I’ve been nominating those under-represented or less-noticed semipro zines who I think are worthy.  Neil’s list is a great starting point–On Spec (who just published a story of mine), Abyss & Apex, GigaNotoSaurus (a ‘sole proprietor’ zine like BCS, and I know the tons of work that entails), Black Gate (that stalwart swords & sorcery mag that never seems to get much notice). And may others.

So if you’re nominating for Hugos, before you fill out your ballot take a look at some of those less-noticed zines.  You might find their work just as worthy as the better-known ones.

Capclave Postlude

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

I had a great time at Capclave, a couple weekends ago.  (Except for the con-crud that delayed my postlude…)

Highlights included moderating a small press panel with Neil Clarke, Sean Wallace, and Mike Walsh of Old Earth Books. Meeting BCS authors Adam Corbin Fusco and David Milstein; hanging out with Jen and Melissa. Chatting again with BCS author and novelist Genevieve Valentine. Seeing co-GOH Cat Valente again (I met her last year at World Fantasy, when the BCS party woke her up at 2 AM :) ).

Speaking with James Morrow, who lectured my year at Odyssey. His novel about Darwin’s lady assistant flying a steampunk airship over the Amazon, which he read from at ReaderCon 2010, is in rewrites and hasn’t yet found a publisher. Which is sad because the excerpt was great. He really liked the cool BCS flyers I had.

Chatting in the bar for hours with co-GOH Carrie Vaughn, a fellow Odyssey grad and bestseller who I had never met in person.  She is mostly known for her urban fantasy, but she’s read tons of epic fantasy and published several dozen short stories, and knows a ton about the field.

The Terry Pratchett surprise visit. I’m not familiar with his work, but I know he’s a very clever and engaging guy. The excerpts that his assistant read from his new book were quite droll (although the assistant read for way too long and interjected his own opinions too often).

They only made enough time to take one question, and it wasn’t about his books but about a BBC documentary he had helped make on assisted suicide for terminally ill. He talked for twenty minutes about that, made even more profound because of his own health situation, and it was utterly fascinating. (I will be blogging about that specifically later.)  Someone in the crowd put it on youtube, and Capclave posted an mp3 of the audio.

The GOH interview. I didn’t know how they would do it with two GOHs. It turned out that Carrie and Cat know each other, so they interviewed each other and took pre-written audience questions.  It was the best GOH interview I’ve ever seen. They were engaging, witty, and profound. Topics included the sociological underpinnings of the mythoses of vampires and werewolves; writing for shared-world anthologies; writing goals and achieving them; where they live and the sense of place in their writing.

I was only at the con for a day and a half, but I had a great time seeing these cool people and having great conversations. That seems to be what I mostly get out of cons–talking to clever people about interesting things.  I’ll definitely be back next year.