Walking Down the Street Naked

There are many things (in the order of gazillions) that separate good writing from bad writing—avoiding words like gazillion, for one—or at least that separate writing that gets read from writing that doesn’t. One, big difference keeps popping up wherever I look.

Susan Shapiro describes it as the humiliation essay. She has a long list of people who have kick started careers with honest accounts of their most difficult, humiliating, or scary experiences/secrets/obsessions/etc. Brené Brown calls it vulnerability, a requirement not only for rewarding work or creativity, but critical in all aspects of life.

We all respond to this bald-faced honesty. We want to see that someone else has the same humiliating flaws we do—preferably, without admitting that we share in them—even if that someone is fictional.

In Make Good Art (notice I’ve linked to it in two consecutive posts. If you have seen it, I highly recommend you watch it on YouTube), by Neil Gaiman  refers to it as ‘walking down the street naked’. The most apt description, I think. It basically boils down to this: The thing you’re afraid to write, because you might have to change your name and move out of town if anyone ever reads it, that’s what people want to read the most. Continue reading

How Not to Write a Novel – Review

20131104_135339[1]

To all aspiring novelists out there—to all writers period—I highly recommend reading How Not to Write a Novel, by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman. Between them, these two authors have lots of experience with writing, editing, teaching, and reviewing. They’ve seen a lot of good and bad writing come and go.

Rather than try to explain what makes good writing good, as most writing how-to books do, this book explains instead what makes bad writing bad. Going through the major points of plot, character, and style, it gives detailed examples demonstrating the various traps most new writers fall into, send their precious manuscripts to the trash can—sorry, recycle bin.

Some of the tips you will have seen before, though probably worded somewhat differently, if you’ve ever read anything on writing. And yet, you probably still make these mistakes from time to time, and another reminder wouldn’t hurt. For example: “Fuck You!” He Said Profanely: Where the author uses adverbs to no purpose.

Others will be new, at least they were to me, like: The Joan Rivers Pre-Novel Special: Where clothing is given too much prominence.

Though written with the novel in mind, the majority of these blunders are not unique to novel writing. The examples are often woefully exaggerated for humour’s sake, but also clearly make their point. As essential as examples of the ‘right thing’ are, examples of the ‘wrong thing’ are valuable too. It’s a lot easier to find mistakes in your writing when you know what the mistakes look like.

Also, the book was simply fun to read. Not a hint of textbookiness to be found. I will warn you, however, unless you are most impeccable writer in existence (in which case, what are you doing on my blog?) it will at times be painful when you see hints of your own writing peeking out from the what‑not‑to-do pile.

Though I’d like to think none of my writing is quite as bad as the comical passages in this book depict, there was lots of ‘yeah, ok, I might do that sometimes.’, and ‘Crap, I’ve definitely done that.’, going through my mind as I came across the traps most applicable to me. I’d list them all, but there are too many (feel free to read any of my writing and I’m sure you’ll find a few on your own).

Here and there, I got to think ‘Phew, I know I’ve never done that.’ Usually when the error described in no way applied to the kind of writing I do, like: Gibberish for Art’s Sake: Wherein indecipherable lyricism baffles the reader. I have been accused of confusing my readers in the past (Dosterra Chapter one), but certainly not with lyricism.

How Not to Write a Novel also includes: The Crepitating Parasol; The Whatchamcallit; and “Yo, Charlemagne, how dost thy big war?”, to name a few more intriguing subtitles that make it impossible not to wonder, ‘What’s that about?’ If you’d like to know, pay a visit to Amazon, or your local Chapters.

Too much information…or too little?

Perhaps this issue is less relevant in the science fiction realms, where I spend most of my time, than other genres, but it’s still something that requires consideration. The question of accuracy in the details when writing. When to do research, and when to make it up. Or, leave it out all together.

I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of being irked when reading a book or watching a TV show that gets the facts or details wrong…or just makes you shutter thinking, Come on, seriously? For me there is one in particular that comes up over and over again in just about any show or book that depicts anyone in uniform. Military, cops, fictional freedom-fighting force from another planet, it doesn’t seem to matter.

This major pet peeve of mine is a fictional senior officer of any kind emphasizing their command by saying…you’ve all heard it…”That’s an order!” or worse “That’s an order, soldier!”

Blech!

Every time I hear those words I cringe. It’s like someone scraping the bottom of a dinner plate repeatedly with their steak knife seemingly unaware that they have already successfully sliced the meat. Perhaps it’s because my military experience is Canadian (and Navy/Air Force at that), but never, in four years at military college or in five years of service afterward, do I ever recall hearing anyone say those words (and I was called a lot of things but never soldier)–except maybe in jest. If I did hear such I thing, I would fear the individual who spoke was at high risk of finding shaving cream in their shoes.

That said, it would appear from most of what I’ve read (and watched on television) that most writers are ok with filling the gaps in their knowledge with believable-ish jargon from their imaginations, or copied clichés that they know the majority of us have been brainwashed to accept as whatever they are trying to represent–like a take-no-bullshit officer let’s say. And does it really matter? Obviously I continue to watch these shows and read these books despite the momentary break in the illusion.

As Stephen King says: I want a little bit, but not the whole thing. Don’t confuse me with the facts. I want to know just enough so that I can lie colorfully. Actually, it was one of his characters who said it and I think the character was quoting someone else, but the character was a writer (I’ve noticed a lot of writers like to write protagonists who are also writers. Write what ya know and all that, I suppose). Anyway, this passage brings to the forefront that magic balance between leaving the reader dizzyingly confused and making them grind their teeth with irritation at the writer’s ignorance.

I am still struggling with this one. Though I’m sure I have been, and will be in the future, guilty of the latter, I tend more toward the former–so I’m told–especially when the topic I’m writing about is of particular interest to me. If I’m interested the reader will be too, right? Not necessarily. Take the early chapters of Dosterra for example where I try to combine my understanding of quantum physics with the possibilities my imagination leaps to based on that knowledge, mostly to the confusion of everyone but my husband who loves the geekiest of hard science fiction more than most.

Part of the problem, of course, is that when it comes to these topics ‘I know just enough to be dangerous’, as they say. I do have a fairly strong science background, but when it comes to quantum physics and cosmology (good Sci Fi material) I am mostly self taught. I think I understand what I read as well as the next person, but I don’t always pass the Richard Feynamn litmus test: Could I explain it to a guy standing at the bus stop? If the answer is ‘yes’ then you have a firm grasp on the concept, if the answer is ‘no’…well…maybe keep your thoughts to yourself, or do some more research.

Even when I do pass this test, how much does the reader really care? Usually not as much as they care about the experiences of the characters themselves. The other stuff is mainly there to make the experience feel real. Beyond that the details can get in the way, or simply bore the reader. The danger is, however, if you gloss over the details too much then the reader feels cheated or patronized, and that’s no good either. Confused yet?

My latest food for thought for other aspiring writers out there.

 

Conundrum

I’ve gotten into a reasonable pattern lately of writing just about every day. Sometimes a little and sometimes a lot. Logically this should mean that I’m getting more done and coming closer to reaching my goals. If I’m writing a thousand or two words is a day, I should be pumping out new Dosterra chapters like crazy.

However, what they say is true. The more you are creative, the more creativity flows. That sounds like a good thing too, right?

Here’s the problem: The new ideas are not always relevant to the project my conscious mind considers to be propriety. Result? More stories started and fewer actually getting done. I mentioned a couple of specific goals in a previous post Oh The Power of Indecision. For the few who are actually keeping track, I have clearly failed in my goal to keep up a regular publishing schedule for Dosterra. There are actually three more chapters completed, but they need some editing before being published, and I’m too busy being distracted by other things.

On the bright side, I did meet the other goal of submitting a story to the latest contest given by On The Premises. Winning may be a long shot, but I plan to take them up on the option to have my entry critiqued for $15, and I’m sure I’ll learn something from that. Now, to keep writing–I’m bound to finish something else eventually.

And there you have my writing-journey thought of the day.

More Ezine Reviews – A Lesson in Patience Part Two

As promised, here are some pros and cons for three more ezines where I have submitted work. Hope some of this info is helpful to other aspiring writers out there (first three reviews here):

Every Day Fiction:

This was the first site I submitted a short story to. And yes I just ended a sentence in a preposition. It’s allow these days. EDF publishes a new flash fiction piece every day with a 1000 word limit, which can be good or bad depending on your strengths and weaknesses as a writer. I personally found keeping my story under 1000 words to be a challenge, which was actually part of my motivation for submitting to this site. Any genre goes as long as it is fiction — non-sci-fi writers take note. See their submission guidelines for more detail.

The biggest draw back I found with these guys was the turnaround time. They were averaging an 80 day response time when I submitted about a month before Christmas. I managed to get around this by responding to their special submission request for holiday-themed stories, but it certainly came down to the wire when they requested some last-minute edits. On the up side, they have an author admin page (that they actually keep updated) so authors can see that their submission is moving through the selection process.

This brings me to the biggest pro of this site. They actually give fairly detailed feedback (perhaps why the turnaround is so slow??) which I think is awesome and very helpful to new writers. I did however find myself drawing a line in the sand when they wanted be to water down my ending from the implication of sex (not even an actual sex scene) to ‘perhaps a simple kiss’.

I wasn’t trying to be stubborn or ‘protect the integrity of my art’, but looking at it as a business transaction, I felt that less remuneration equaled less input. They only pay a token $3; this is a get-your-work-out-there option. So, I agreed to some grammatical and minor stylistic changes — and appreciated/learn from some of the points they made — but refused to change the ending. I figured if they then decided not to publish my story I could live with that. They accepted the story anyway.

Conclusion: a great option for newbies and I’m glad I gave them a go, but I doubt I’ll be back.

Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine

These guys recently rejected one of my stories, but I recommend giving them a try. The pay is higher than token, 1.25 cents per word up to $20, and their response time is good, a couple of weeks. They have excellent — and humourous — submission guidelines, including an awesome article on common writer’s mistakes, A Comprehensive and Totally Universal Listing of Every Problem a Story Has Ever Had, which I strongly recommend it to any writer of any genre.

These guys are on the to-try-again-list.

365 tomorrows:

My most recent acceptance, A Swirl of Chocolate, will be published on this site. They don’t pay, but since they are only looking for flash of 600 words or less I decided they were worth a try, and could at least offer some visibility. The submission guidelines don’t tell much, but from reading some of the stories published on the site, they are fairly flexible aside from the word limit.

Their response time is slow, and communication is lacking. Unlike every other acceptance I’ve had, which included a back and forth regarding publishing dates, copyrights etc, these guys sent me my acceptance notice via a no-reply email — weird. I’ve resorted to communicating with them through twitter.

Since this one is still in the works, I can’t say whether I’ll submit to them again. The communication thing is annoying, but on the other hand they are a good option for extra-short flash fiction that may not find a home elsewhere.

That’s all for now. As I test the publishing waters in other places I’ll share my thoughts.

Dosterra Review by The Word Bookie

Another positive review of Dosterra comes to you via The Word Bookie. This review has some good things to say about my writing and characters ( 🙂 ) and has also given me some constructive things to think about. What more can a new writer ask of a review?

I’m glad to have gotten a review from The Word Bookie, an all-around book blog written by a freelance writer–getting another writer’s perspective is always beneficial. This blog gives perspective on everything from best sellers to newbies like me so I recommend book lovers check it out.

Dosterra’s First Review

My serial novel Dosterra has received it’s first review from Fiona’s Book Blog. First, I would like to say that I think Fiona’s Book Blog is a great resource to readers and writers alike. It is all too common today for reviews to be dishonest, or simply not helpful. This blog is one that provides the honest opinion of it’s author, providing useful information to potential readers and real feedback to writers.

This is apparent in the review of Dosterra, which based on chapters 0ne-six was given 3.5/5 stars. Now my ego of course would prefer something more like 5/5. However, as I have discussed before, I am learning to write a novel. Key word learning. It’s not perfect, and I need people to tell me how it is not perfect if I’m going to improve. This review points out that it took me a couple of chapters to find my feet with Dosterra. I’d love to go back in time and fix it, but since the science in my story does not (yet) exist in real life, that is not an option.

The best I can do is learn and move forward. Reviewers like Fiona’s Book Blog can help me do that. 🙂