Posts Tagged ‘writing’

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.

Read to Write

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

A recent article on laments that more and more aspiring writers don’t read much.

Reading has always been viewed as an essential activity for writers, whether for priming the creative pump, checking out other authors’ technique, researching the field, or reading for fun.  (Which of course is how all writers started out.)

Writers who don’t read can end up with huge knowledge gaps in any of the above, which often show through in their work.  My favorite is the infamous case of an epic fantasy novelist who had only ever read one fantasy novel before writing his own (and a third-generation one at that: Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth).  It was a classic case of the reader thinking (as the Salon article puts it) “If this guy can do it, so can I!”  The (epically awful) results speak for themselves.

Alas, I’m as guilty of not-reading as anyone.  I do read magazine subs for hours every day, which makes me think a bit about writing and technique, but that’s not the same.  I blame it on not having much time, which is always a lame excuse, and on being very hard to impress.

But over the summer I started my reread of George R.R. Martin’s Ice and Fire books, in preparation for the new one.  I’m enjoying them all over again, and I’m getting a lot of new insight.  I’ve always admired his stuff, and I have kept current on his short fiction.  Maybe it’s that I’m reading slower this time or I know more about writing than when they first came out, or I’m thinking more about novels lately, but I’m seeing lots of very cool story things and writing things.

So maybe this will get me back on the reading wagon.  At least, until I finish all 5,500 pages of GRRM. :)

Opening Control

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

My Homeless Moon cohort Justin Howe had a neat writing post last week about openings.  Justin is a first-reader for a Hugo-award winning magazine, so he has seen a ton of story openings, and he’s written a few cool ones himself.

In his post, he articulates the way he thinks writers in openings establish that “trust” with the reader.  He calls it “control.”  For example, not trying to do too much into the opening; not cramming in lots of introspection or backstory or setting.

That’s a neat way to articulate it.  I often call it the prose feeling “assured.”  As a reader you can tell, in a great opening, that you’re in expert hands.  Like the writer knows exactly where they want to lead you.  What things they need to lay out for you in order to have you follow them there, with nothing that’s unnecessary or extra.

Thinking about “control” or “assured-ness” in openings reminded me of a nugget I read a while back.  It’s via Bradley P. Beaulieu, a new fantasy novelist with a dozen pro story sales, who’s also written some neat articles on writing in the SFWA Bulletin.

He went to Clarion years ago and, in his awesome post of nuggets from the whole six weeks of the workshop, related this one from veteran writer Nancy Kress (whose books on writing I love):

It’s more important to be interesting at the beginning of a story than clear. The common tendency at the beginning of a story is to over-explain so that the reader “understands.”

Well, the reader doesn’t really care about understanding early on. They care about an interesting character in an interesting situation, something to entertain them and make them want to read on, and that’s almost always not the same as explaining to the Nth detail what’s going on and what came before.

That’s a slightly different angle on it than Justin’s “control,” but it’s talking about the same end. It’s a notch beyond the common writerly advice of honing the purpose of every thing you put in an opening. It’s honing your overall bundle of purposes there.

It’s sticking to the bare minimum of purposes to be achieved in your opening. Having them be enough that the opening should be interesting.  But exercising control as far as which purposes you plan to achieve in the opening and which you set aside to accomplish later in the story.

Having that sort of metered approach to the set of things you’re trying to accomplish in the opening also means you probably won’t have too much background/etc or be over-explaining.

Insightful food for writerly thought the next time you craft an opening.

No Danger in a Double-Swoopy-Overhand-Neckchop Unless I Care

Friday, August 19th, 2011

I get to read a lot of fight scenes.  I often see stories that open with a fight scene. But for me, I routinely see two things in fight scenes that kill my readerly interest as utterly as a head-severing blow from Conan’s greatsword.

The first: I don’t think readers can ever picture the physical moves of the fight as clearly as the author does.  It’s very difficult to describe physical action that’s happening in specific spatial places in a way that the reader can get such 3D spatialness from the prose.  Sometimes you can use fighting jargon to describe a stance or move, but if the reader doesn’t know that term, that doesn’t work either. All that ineffective description just ends up bogging down the pace.

What’s more, I don’t think it’s necessary that the reader be able to picture the moves in a fight. The general feel of the fight is far more important to me.  Is it elegant, with quick moves, like Wesley and Inigo in The Princess Bride?  Is it short and brutish, like Robin and the Sheriff at the end of Robin and Marion?  It is epic and terrifying, like Eowyn and the Nazgûl? Bestselling D&D author R.A. Salvatore considers the surroundings: is it taking place in a ring, on a rocky hillside, or in a tight cave?  Capture the vibe, and that will hook me far deeper.

The second: I don’t think most writers realize that in a fight scene the danger, and therefore the narrative tension, doesn’t come from the adversary, or the weapons, or the moves.  It comes from the character.  A character who I already care about (that’s why opening with a fight scene rarely hooks me).  Then showing me how this fight threatens that character’s internals.

No, not their internal organs, Conan; their emotions.  Their hopes and dreams; what they want and what they care about.  I think all real fights have that–people get into fights because something emotionally important to them is at stake.

If a fight scene captures the vibe and makes me feel the character’s emotional stakes, then I get the danger.  En guarde!