The best work is always unofficially collaborative (via @alanbaxter)

Alan Baxter talks about the secret ingredient of many published works:

My most recent short story is all my own work supposedly. But it was critiqued by three of my best writing pals. It has significant additional scenes in the middle from one pal’s suggestions, a completely reworked end from another pal’s suggestion, much juggling of motivations from the third pal’s concerns and greatly polished final words from the input of all three. All of those things I’ve just credited separately were actually raised by all three because they’re bloody good advisors. It’s the solutions I used that I’m crediting really, all of them tempered with my own ideas. The best critiquers don’t tell you how to fix something – they just tell you what doesn’t work and maybe why (for them). It’s your job to decide whether to take that on board and it’s your job to fix it.

Read it here. I couldn’t agree more: http://www.alanbaxteronline.com/work-unofficially-collaborative/

When Should You Give Up (via @frippet, HT: @Louise_Swinn)

Sounds like pretty depressing advice, but sometimes it’s worth reading:

I’ve read a few things over the last month or so which have made me realise what a tiny step towards being an author this getting published business is. First, there was this piece from author Annabel Smith about looking for an agent when you have two published novels and a third on the way. Basically, she says, it makes no difference that you’re published. Nothing has changed, it’s still the case that no one wants you; no one cares. If you haven’t sold big, you might as well have never been published. Other authors talked about how if you haven’t sold big, it might even be an impediment to have been published – all the data about your crappy sales lives on forever on BookScan, where prospective publishers can see it and decide you’re really not worth the risk.

Read on: http://janebryonyrawson.wordpress.com/2014/06/18/when-should-you-give-up/

How Writers End Up On NSA Watchlists (via: @cantrelljason)

When talking about writers and their search histories I’ve joked that there are only two types of people who search for ‘How do I dispose of my wife’s body with a woodchipper’.

Jason Cantrell talks about the realities of quite how dodgy a writer’s web search history can look, and how you might end up on totalitarian government watchlists:

And of course, in addition to researching ponies and Mesopotamian slave names, I did extensive research into decay rates of human bodies. As you can see, I spent quite a bit of time visiting multiple websites on this topic. It’s almost as if I’m planning to enslave someone and I want to know how long it’ll take the body to decay when I finish killing her. But that seems unlikely . . . maybe if we go a bit further back, there’ll be something in my search history that will shed some light on this and explain what I’ve really been up to.

I tried to do this to find out what mad story ideas are shown in my own history, but it seems an earlier version of me had proactively disabled Google’s web search history tracking for my account. Good thinking, yester-me.

Click here and check out Jason’s history, if you dare: http://writingpossibilities.com/2014/07/07/how-writers-end-up-on-nsa-watchlists/

Fun Ideas Time: The Fermi Paradox (via @waitbutwhy)

And by ‘fun’ I mean ‘terrifying existential crisis’.

Sometimes it’s good just to throw some brain-food into the blogging mix in the hope that it will spark some kind of story ideas. The Fermi paradox continues to be terrifying because of mathematics. eg:

Continuing to speculate, if 1% of intelligent life survives long enough to become a potentially galaxy-colonizing Type III Civilization, our calculations above suggest that there should be at least 1,000 Type III Civilizations in our galaxy alone—and given the power of such a civilization, their presence would likely be pretty noticeable. And yet, we see nothing, hear nothing, and we’re visited by no one.

Yay: http://waitbutwhy.com/2014/05/fermi-paradox.html

And here a little refreshing breath to not worry so much about it, we’re special: http://praxtime.com/2013/11/25/sagan-syndrome-pay-heed-to-biologists-about-et/

He Said/She Sighed – Part 1 (HT: @ginad129)

A great article here from Catherine Austen, which could be ‘here are some rules about writing rules':

Big picture rules are good, like: A book should spend more words on important scenes and fewer words on unimportant scenes. That rule is hard to argue with.

Rules I roll my eyes at are nitpicky particulars like: Use “said” as your only verb in dialogue. That is a stupid rule. Or, rather, it is stupid to think of that as a rule.

Catherine gives a good analysis of why there are apparent ‘rules’ like ‘just use  s‘ as a dialogue tag’. Like all ‘rules’, you can break them once you understand their purpose. This article is about the why:

You can have people spew their words, spit their words, growl them, bark them, bray them if you like. None of it is grammatically incorrect. Just as you can have your character drag her heart to the door, once she gets there she can sigh hello if you want her to. Readers love a good metaphor; why bar them from dialogue? The question is not whether it’s correct usage. (It is.) The question is whether it works. If it enhances the scene and makes it clearer, more vivid, more real and alive, then it’s good usage. If it obscures the action and slows the understanding and annoys the reader, it’s bad usage.

There’s a lot more in there, with this great little smackdown:

Note to nitpickers: The hiss of speech doesn’t have to be on sibilants. Humans do not hiss. The meaning of “hiss” in dialogue is not “sssss. If someone is hissing “ssstay away sssilly” you’d better spell it out because no reader is going to assume the speaker is actually hissing the sibilants – unless you’ve already said they’re insane and one of their symptoms is hissing like a snake. Hissing in dialogue means to speak in quiet anger. Like the hiss of a snake or a cat, it is a small noise with a big angry warning attached to it. It is a perfectly good word for a whisper-shout. So please don’t show off your ignorance by calling out an author for saying a character hissed, “Pick that up” to her unruly child in church. You might not like the usage, but it is not bad grammar.

It’s only part 1. Read it and bookmark it so if I forget to link you to part 2 then you won’t miss out: http://catherineausten.wordpress.com/2014/06/20/he-saidshe-sighed-part-one/

We’re losing all our Strong Female Characters to Trinity Syndrome (via @thedissolve, ht: @jacklscanlan)

With diversity finally getting a bit more stagetime in the industry (or at least discussions of diversity) it’s tempting for lazy artists to pay, effectively, lip service to the notion of having female characters. For example, having stories with more female protagonists does not mean you can just genderswap a character and end up with female male characters, women saying man-things or navigating a man-world like a man. Or as Tasha Robinson discusses in this article, you can’t just make an interesting female character then…just…forget about her:

There’s been a cultural push going on for years now to get female characters in mainstream films some agency, self-respect, confidence, and capability, to make them more than the cringing victims and eventual trophies of 1980s action films, or the grunting, glowering, sexless-yet-sexualized types that followed, modeled on the groundbreaking badass Vasquez in Aliens.

[snip]

[E]ven when they do, the writers often seem lost after that point. Bringing in a Strong Female Character™ isn’t actually a feminist statement, or an inclusionary statement, or even a basic equality statement, if the character doesn’t have any reason to be in the story except to let filmmakers point at her on the poster and say “See? This film totally respects strong women!”

Very good overview (with extra links) about the mistake of introducing Strong Female Characters who then are superfluous to the plot. The concern is summarised as:

For the ordinary dude to be triumphant, the Strong Female Character has to entirely disappear into Subservient Trophy Character mode. This is Trinity Syndrome à la The Matrix: the hugely capable woman who never once becomes as independent, significant, and exciting as she is in her introductory scene.

Important stuff, and a good checklist/questionnaire for writers to help figure out if you’re inadvertently making some of these mistakes: http://thedissolve.com/features/exposition/618-were-losing-all-our-strong-female-characters-to-tr/

Death in modern culture (via @guardian)

An interesting discussion about the interest that the younger generation has in death and things related to death. Death is a bit of a taboo in modern Western society, as is its close friend, ‘old age’.

As a teacher of writing, I am often asked why my students read such “morbid stuff”. Why do teenagers seek out stories about vampires and zombies and death and violence? Parents are particularly interested in this. Should they be making sure their kids are reading something more “wholesome”? Something about junior detectives solving local, non-violent crime perhaps? Something about the rescue of native animals and the hijinks they get up to?

I’m approaching this as a way to get an appreciation of what motivates readers to seek out, for example, horror fiction.

Check it out: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jun/08/young-people-are-dying-to-talk-about-death

The 3 golden rules of writing a science fiction book (via @standoutbooks)

I like this, as it concurs with my ‘Yeah so Star Wars isn’t Science Fiction’ position which invariably starts a drunken debate:

Science fiction is just that, fiction about science. The science might be invented, and it might be of any stripe: political science, psychology and sociology, electronics, or the type with beakers and skeletons, but all sci-fi revolves around a central ‘what if..?’ question that addresses a deeper query

.As is my wont, I’ll make you go to the original article to get to the juiciness, but here are the three rules:

  • Rule #1 – Know your thesis
  • Rule #2 – Do your research
  • Rule #3 – Don’t be afraid of the new

Read on to get the details: https://www.standoutbooks.com/3-golden-rules-writing-science-fiction-book/

Things I knew About Creating Characters When I Started Writing (via @ChrisAndrewsAU)

Well! It seems to me that the most important parts of crafting an excellent story go in this order*:

Character -> Plot -> Setting/Concept

The order in which I craft stories is this:

Setting/Concept -> Plot -> Character

You may notice a slight problem.

In practice, my backward approach means that the stories I sell are the lucky few that happen to have good characters. What I ought to do is stick with my setting/concept bias, sure, but immediately engage the emergency writing brakes and think about character foremost. Sure, the setting will inform the character. But crafting characters after you’ve written the plot? Feels a bit like Prometheus to me. The crappy movie, not the helpful Titan.

Without good characters, I think you’re really making it hard for yourself to compete with other submissions.

To that end, Chris Andrews has collected a bunch of great responses about the things other writers have learned about creating characters:

I’d tell myself to figure out what my characters want, what they need, and to understand the difference, but that’s just a tiny part of creating characters.
Here’s some more fantastic responses to that question.

Read them here, they’re quite good: http://fandelyon.com/things-i-wish-i-knew-about-creating-characters-when-i-started-writing/


 

*This is a high level overview. I realise all these steps are intertwined and sometimes the setting is the character.

5 Ways To Write Characters That People Care About (via @WritersRelief, HT: @KCHerbel)

I suck at consciously putting characters together. They kind of…coalesce…out of my writing. I don’t think that’s a very useful professional super power, and so this article helps character-deficient folks like myself:

Creating characters that evoke empathy in the reader can be challenging, but these five methods will ensure that your efforts are successful. And keep in mind that empathetic characters don’t always have to be likable.

It’s not a long article, but it provides some structure around crafting solid characters, so check it out here: http://writersrelief.com/blog/2014/05/write-characters-people-care-about/