Dec 06

Craft of Writing: Failure to Thrive

Posted: under Craft, the writing life.
Tags: ,  December 6th, 2014

Sometimes a story of any size starts…and then crumbles to dust, or lies down and refuses to move, or otherwise reveals itself as a failure.   I’m not talking about stories completed that never find a market (that’s another kind of failure, which I’ll talk about another time) but stories that you want to write–at least when you start.  Stories that are happy, gurgling, grinning infant stories, that may even get far enough to start crawling on their own–but develop what doctors call “failure to thrive” in spite of your best efforts.

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Oct 13

Bad Guys III: Psychology and Anthropology

Posted: under Craft.
Tags:  October 13th, 2014

Psychology offers a lot of ways to complicate bad guys (when you want to) and handy shortcuts for when you don’t. Its sources concentrate on the individual and the family (though not all writers about psychology ignore culture, what’s published under that name is rarely broad and deep enough to serve the fiction writer, especially in fantasy and science fiction.) Anthropology covers the “outside” nurture, the broader context of why people become who they become and do what they do. Both are excellent areas for fiction writers to study, though with the warning that your characters should not read like case histories, and readers should not be able to recognize which book that character came out of. Moreover, fiction should not read like the writer’s own therapy sessions. Even when the story requires that a character be in therapy for something, and the writer has had the same therapy. Read the rest of this entry »

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Oct 09

Bad Guys II: How Do They Think?

Posted: under Craft.
Tags:  October 9th, 2014

“The line between good and evil,” Solzhenitsyn wrote, “runs right down the middle of every human heart.” That’s a starting point, but some people have that line apparently stuck closer to one side than the other. In a society where honesty is prized, how does a dishonest bad guy justify dishonesty to himself or herself? In a society where kindness is prized, how does someone justify cruelty? Or, conversely, in a society where cruelty is prized, how does someone justify kindness? From the point of view of a storyteller, a bad guy character is a character and that means the bad guy has agency–acts for reasons that make bad-guy sense. Saving the mentally ill bad guy, bad guys use the same internal thinking processes (but not outcomes) as good guys. That’s what this post is about: how do bad guys come to the decisions and behaviors they exhibit in a story–the ones that define them as bad guys? Read the rest of this entry »

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Oct 09

Bad Guys: Thoughts on Writing Them

Posted: under Craft.
Tags:  October 9th, 2014

Many stories–especially in fantasy–include one or more bad guys–defined for the moment as someone in opposition to the protagonist.   I’ve written before about characterization, ways to approach creating characters that work as fiction but appeal to readers as real people.   But I haven’t specifically dealt with writing bad guys (villains, traitors, tyrants, etc.) , and there are differences in writing them because of the different roles they play in the story being written.   It would take a book (or more) to deal with all aspects of writing bad guys–and then it wouldn’t be complete because someone would invent another, and besides no two writers are likely to agree on what the difficulties are–but this is one way–just one way–to consider what goes into making a bad guy who is not too weak, too strong, too boring, too fascinating, too…much of anything, for the story in hand.

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Sep 02

Home, Con-crud, and Bad Writing

Posted: under Craft, Life beyond writing.
Tags: , ,  September 2nd, 2014

It’s not all negative.  I had a great time at Dragon-Con,  the con-crud is not (so far) really bad, and the bad writing was/is hilarious.    I don’t trash other peoples’ books in public, so I won’t tell you who wrote this gasper, only that it’s not in SF/F (I indulged my interest in another genre).   I won’t even quote it because someone lurking here would undoubtedly run it through a search engine and figure it out, after which someone (maybe a different someone) would hasten to tell the author that I trashed the book, and the author’s fans would then come hurtling down on me, and those who like internet fights would sit around cheering.  I  have a better idea.

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Jul 18

Body Art in Paksworld

Posted: under Background, Craft, the writing life.
Tags: , , ,  July 18th, 2014

Many people in various cultures have used permanent markings on the body as means of identification–individual, familial, tribal, broadly cultural.    Any of these can be ornamental, and thus fall into the “art” category, but they are often more than ornamental–they have specific meanings.  Temporary markings applied to the skin with colors, mud, ash are even commoner, but ephemeral; the point of this post is the permanent ones in use in Paksworld, and their meanings to the Paksworld cultures that use them (or who abhor them.)    Tattoos, scarification, and piercings all occur in Paksworld, with very specific meanings both inside and outside the groups that use them.

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Jun 19

A Mixed Bag

Posted: under Craft, Life beyond writing.
Tags: ,  June 19th, 2014

Surgery’s next Wednesday.   Good to know there’s only a 3%  chance of losing the vision in that eye, though as the person who’s benefitted from its vision (poor as it’s been sometimes) for 69 years, I could wish that % chance was lower.   I intend to spend even more time than usual in the next five days looking at things and maybe even photographing them.   However, life isn’t all about my eye, or even me…and though I’m in a writing gap right now (not only is it hard not to think about the surgery, but the eye in question is making it very clear its cataract is getting worse)   I am thinking about the craft of writing and the many ways writers try to bridge the gap between what we see in our heads, and what you get when you read what we wrote.

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Mar 28

Luxury Polishing

Posted: under Collections, Craft, the writing life.
Tags: ,  March 28th, 2014

Quite often, and especially with long books,  writers are up against tight deadlines.   Yes, we proofread.  Yes, we try to find every continuity error, every awkward phrase, every less than perfect word choice.    And we hope Editor and Copy-Editor and eventually the proofreader for the page proofs will find the ones we miss (though sometimes we need to correct their corrections.   The CE who wanted me to have a ship’s weapons “staffed” instead of “manned,” for instance.)  But once a writer is hooked into a traditional publishing workflow,  there’s a limit to how many drafts, how many re-readings, how much polishing can be done in the time alloted. Read the rest of this entry »

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Feb 14

Writer’s Toolkit: Strong v. Weak Characters

Posted: under Craft.
Tags:  February 14th, 2014

I recently followed a link from Twitter and found myself at a site listing “women who will kick your ass” to go along with praise of a particular book.   All the other kick-ass women were in movies or TV shows, not books, which I found…annoying.   But still.   Once more the “strong woman character” is interpreted by a media outlet as “kickass” and (as comments on the chosen characters showed) not just “kickass” but “badass.”    For that writer, in that instance, a strong woman character had to be both physically strong and aggressive, and psychologically, morally, glad to be bad, at least part of the time.   Read the rest of this entry »

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Feb 13

Craft, Art, Secrecy, Sharing

Posted: under Craft.
Tags:  February 13th, 2014

There’s a sensible article about Craft and Art  by Theodora Goss  on the SFWA website.   Goss, an experienced creative writing teacher, has a somewhat different angle on it than I do, but we see both pretty much the same way.   My way of saying it:  Craft makes art possible.   Art gives craft life.   But in the story I’m working on now,  which happens to be partly about craft (in knitting) and art (ditto) there’s something more I believe is important.

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