sartorias: (purple rose)
I guess anyone can get anything out of seminars, workshops, classes, etc. But yesterday a friend called up, who had paid good money to attend a writers' workshop. This friend is getting back to writing after having recently retired--wrote a lot years ago, then it dried up when job and family took over, and now that the household is down to one, and the job is gone, is feeling out writing again.

But.

"We were told that the two best openings are establishing the setting and mood of the protagonist, or else sudden high action. Is this true?"

Argh. I blathered and hemmed and hawed, first laying down all the conditionals (what works for one may not work for another; if you have a strong voice, anything goes; what is your audience) but this is what I said: in my experience the two toughest openings are the in medias res and the info dump.

The info dump is the easiest to write. I mean not just as openings, but also as transition, or POV intro within chapters: wherever it is, it's basically the main character sitting and ruminating his or her history or philosophy at the reader.

When I read reviews by ordinary folks either here on LJ or at Goodreads or on various forums, I see a fairly consistent pattern in readers not being able to get past such an opening to a story or book, and skimming it if encountered inside the book. Except maybe coming down after a long sequence of fast and high stakes action--what Bickham called a sequel. The writer is already invested or wouldn't be telling the story, but it's a real uphill climb to get readers to invest in a block of data with no actual story anywhere in sight. In fact, in workshops, this often turns out to be the chapter that everyone says to lop off, "Your story doesn't really begin until chapter three. Start there."

The in medias res opening has the opposite problem: tons of story, all right, but thrown at the reader fast and furious before there's a chance to invest in the characters. To even find who the protag is.

I qualified that with the caveat about strong styles and voices--Pratchett, for example, could do anything to open a book and I'd be hooked. Wodehouse often opened books with Bertie sitting and reflecting, but from the first sentence the humor is so rich that I'm there, turning the pages.

Yes? No? How about the rest of the readers out there, do you agree, or have I fallen behind the times yet again without realizing that I am not only old but moldy?
sartorias: (handwritten books)
Heh. Couldn't resist that subject header.

I'm here at Fourth Street Fantasy Faire, a one-track convention that is really a long conversation about reading and writing, with lots of spin offs. Terrific start.

But also, it's my turn at the BVC blog, where I talk about the beau ideal and I hope you will, too.
sartorias: (desk)
If you like shapeshifter paranormal romance with suspense, humor, and romance as a tight trifecta, I recommend Dragon's Luck, which I beta read. That is, I was supposed to beta read it, but I enjoyed it so much I forgot to take notes. Lauren Esker is an indie living up in Alaska, new on the scene, whose books keep getting better. Right now this book is 99 cents! And a floating sphinx! Come on, have you ever read about a floating sphinx?

One of my Jane Austen Reading Group members is another novelist, like me, in the years when you don't want to be kept waiting decades waiting for agents, editors, and pub dates. Over the past three or four years I've passed along what I've learned about indie writing (including all the mistakes I've made) and encouraged her to take the time to do it right, if she wanted to launch in print. Well, she did--getting together with other like mindeds, also of a certain age, and trading with local artists for art and design work, and today they launched their small press. I'll have more to say about Barbara's book when I've had a chance to read it. The cover shows an actual painting of Southern California 150 years ago. It was not a desert.

Last, my son the drummer is finishing up his ASL degree, and doing a lot of volunteering up in LA at the Braille Institute (where I used to volunteer many decades ago), working specifically with deaf and blind people. He was telling me last night about the varieties of communication methods people have; he, a second degree black belt in kung fu, volunteered in the exercise class. Mostly he was able to move people's bodies and they'd catch on, but one person wished to communicate with a portable braille machine, and others preferred putting their hand over his when he did Sign. He has the upper body strength to do this last one okay, but he said sometimes the volunteers get their arms out of whack after some hours of gentle, but steady, weight of others' hands on them as they Sign. Example here. (He also says, for a Deaf look at Hearing Culture oddities, try the Coda Brothers.
sartorias: (desk)
[livejournal.com profile] rachelmanija and I talk about"specialness" in our reading and subsequently our approach in writing.

Bricolage!

Feb. 28th, 2015 06:51 am
sartorias: (desk)
Reprise on bricolage, after a bunch of related discussions online and at cons. Plus mentions of a couple books, including Andrea K. Höst's new release.
sartorias: (Fan)
Over here at his LiveJournal.

The take-away is that writers write.

(Curiously enough I recently read a YA novel that converses with fan fiction, by Rainbow Rowell, called Fangirl.)

Writing

Nov. 17th, 2013 06:24 am
sartorias: (desk)
Not sure I agree entirely--I think language and writing both are messier and bigger-- but Steve Popkes had what I thought an interesting approach to code vs. cipher writing, and thinking.

And a few days ago,
[livejournal.com profile] mrissa talked about favorite aspects of writing which I will simplify to inspired writing and revision. I used to love white fire writing the most--well, I still catch myself wishing for one more mad dash while an entire story flows out through my fingers, but I don't trust those anymore. I think the hardest, most hurtful realization in a long life of struggling to learn how to write adequately (far, far too late in life) was that the intensity of the writing experience did not guarantee an equally intense experience for the reader.

Maybe it does for everyone else, of course. This is why at age 62, I am still very much a learner. But it's what I love doing best. Anyway, I've come to relish revision, which I guess is lucky because I go over stuff so very many times. (And yeah, I know everything I do could use another couple dozen drafts. But age 62...)

Anyway, anyone want to dish process? I hoped these essays might spark thoughts or insights.
sartorias: (desk)
On one of my several e-mail reading lists, I was surprised a week or so ago to discover a reader ranting madly about how creeped out she was to find an author "liking" her review of her historical romance. To her, this felt stalkerish, almost as bad as authors who give their own books five star reviews. Imagine, someone who dares to go around liking only the five star reviews of their book--she wanted to take down all her reviews, she felt the author was peering over her shoulder, yadda yadda.

I toyed for a couple days with responding with something like "Imagine authors acting like human beings!" then decided to see what the fallout was, if any. Aside from such obvious ones as ranting madly at readers who write bad reviews, which is just basic courtesy, I was thinking that there really aren't any Rules of Etiquette for writers.

Until relatively recently, writers wrote, and accepted that their books went into a black hole, except maybe for reviews in a few professional review magazines, newspapers if you were lucky. You knew success by how much you made in royalties. You didn't engage with readers. No, that isn't quite true--during the eighteenth century England's newspapers contained boisterously vociferous engagement between writers (and playwrights and the more famous actors) and reviewers, to the high entertainment of subscribers. But the more decorous nineteenth century saw that dying down.

So anyway, I didn't respond at all, and the flurry died down after a day or two, but it made me watch for various interaction streams. Some writers vigorously engage, others hold back. I remembered an author saying at LosCon's fan fiction panel that she reads all the fan fiction written about her universe, she just never comments. Other authors said they couldn't bear the idea of fan fiction (one favored hurling lawyers at the writers, others ignoring it); but in the fan fiction world, engagement between writers and readers is pretty much standard. However grudgewanking and other trollish behavior is vigorously stamped on by community action.

It makes me wonder if forums are evolving where writers of published books and stories can and do interact with readers.
sartorias: (handwritten books)
Thinking about the power of the image--and yet how no one can successfully control or predict it completely--got me thinking about the power of image. That is fundamentally important for us visual writers.

I riffed about it over here. I promise, it's short! I don't know how boring it might be since I am talking specifically about my experience, rather than ruminating on my experience of others, but if you read it, and you are a writer, feel free talk about your own process. Especially the asking of "Why" that can lead to a river of stories; I refer there to Katharine Kerr's post on series.

Many denigrate series, and I watch and think of my lifetime roman fleuve, and think uh oh! Well, we are what we are!

* the icon is used for writing, but those are actually two handwritten books, one from 1970 and one from 1985.
sartorias: (Fan)
Two links; first, come talk to me about fantasy chick lit, an often-disparaged subgenre that I don't think deserves its rep. Mentioned is one I really enjoyed, Mindy Klasky's new Jane Madison book, Single Witch's Survivial Guide.

And the middle book blues. She talks from the point of view of a writer, but I think this discussion could really benefit from the reader's perspective, specifically on those two middle-book problems: info dumping on what came before, and the fact that this is not the resolution.

I do think that trilogies fail because they don't have three books full of story, a particular problem besetting quest tales. But when the middle book is as much fun, or more fun, than the first one? That's because it's a genuinely big story.
sartorias: (Fan)
Though authors, in interviews, are totally justified in beginning every sentence with "In MY books . . ." and making claims of artistic significance, astonishing innovation, character subtlety, profundity and surprise, I am justified in being uninterested, unconvinced, and passing on.

Might be a function of old age: patterns that seem freshly invented to someone who hasn't been reading as long as I have been familiar for an appreciable time. Knowledge that appears recondite to someone striking into new territory has developed a patina of frequent visitation.

Blah blah, I know. Anyway, I was caught by this interview with Kit Kerr, another of those smart female writers whose work has appeared in a variety of genres, and who always seems to go overlooked in those ever-present lists of "the great writers" (that I too often am prompted to mentally substitute "great" with "cis-gendered white male").

In the comments, I brought up a quote from another of those female writers who gets less attention than she deserves, Laura Mixon, who once said: Entertainment without meaning outsells meaning without entertainment, but both are outsold by entertainment with meaning.
sartorias: (duel to the pie!)
I have an entry included with today's Mind Meld.
sartorias: (desk)
I’ve seen some fascinating iterations of this meme going around, but I really like process discussions. Not everybody is interested in process, or in talking about the thing, when they might like the thing itself. Of course there are some writers who are so charismatic in person or through their clever prose that they make anything interesting.

Then there are visual writers like me who may reach an audience or may not, but in talking about their stories . . . well, I think it was Lord Chesterfield who said, if someone asks you how you are, resist the impulse to go into details about the state of your bowels. Even though your bowels are of vital fascination to you, you cannot be sure that that holds the same for your company.

I’m like an addict, I know it’s bad to blat because if I uncork, I don’t stop until my polite auditor is thinking of reaching for a spork to use as a deadly weapon. So, like you do to phatic questions—(“How are you?” “Great, and yourself?”) I’ve tried to train myself to give the response that most really want to hear when they say “So what are you writing now?” Because they are being polite—acknowledging that yes, they know I am a writer, though they have never ventured beyond that (or maybe did and fell asleep).

I say, “Oh, this and that.” And if they nod in relief and move on to a more interesting topic like the weather, I can congratulate myself on having gotten that far in a social interaction without verbally tripping over the furniture and falling face first into the three-tiered cake.

But if they ask more than one question, I’ve been trying to learn to Keep It Short.

So, I was first tagged by someone who then didn’t have time to do it, but then along came [livejournal.com profile] superversive with the challenge after his entry here.

And I did it, and here’s me trying to keep it short.

What is the working title of your next book?

A Sword Named Truth

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

I wanted to know what happened after The Great Celebration after the good guys won. Or thought they won.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Fantasy

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Haven’t auditioned any.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

The beginning of the ‘glorious new era’ is not what anybody thought it would be.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

DAW book

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

One of those eye glazers. Just say forty years, and leave it at that.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Um, others of my books . . . sort of?

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

See question two.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?

That depends on the reader. For anyone who read (and liked) A Stranger to Command, this is what was happening alongside it, and immediately after.

As for tagging others, I went to a range of people who I don't usually see posting on the subject, among them being [livejournal.com profile] dancinghorse, [livejournal.com profile] barry_king, [livejournal.com profile] madrobins, and newcomer whose first book (talked about here) is a wower, [livejournal.com profile] blairmacg.
sartorias: (Default)
I thought [livejournal.com profile] heleninwales had useful stuff to say about the frustrations of teaching writing, or even discussing process. Not that it isn't worth the effort. Not that it isn't helpful. But sometimes writers, in striving to find enlightenment, can talk right past one another.
sartorias: (Default)
I thought [livejournal.com profile] heleninwales had useful stuff to say about the frustrations of teaching writing, or even discussing process. Not that it isn't worth the effort. Not that it isn't helpful. But sometimes writers, in striving to find enlightenment, can talk right past one another.

Editors

Oct. 21st, 2012 07:46 am
sartorias: (Default)
While I was visiting [livejournal.com profile] asakiyume we had a small but excellent writing workshop. I came away all excited about what people had seen in my first chapter of a thing--the bad and the good. All during my travels I tinkered with that chapter, addressing issues that people saw, then I woke up the night before last and realized I have to scrap the entire thing except for the opening scene.

Writing is such a weird thing--we write for ourselves, but we also have an eye to the potential audience. We have things to say, but we often have to hide them. We are accused of saying things we didn't actually put into the text, because each book is different for each reader. And yet there is the shared sigh of satisfaction at this bit--or a general shudder for the horror reader at that incident, binding us together, those of us who read and reacted to the same book. One of the most powerful magics of fiction is the shared reaction.

The e-book revolution has returned the power of publication to the writer, as it was in the eighteenth century, when there were printers and booksellers, but no editors in the way we know them now. A New York agent was telling me a day or so ago, during a phone conversation, about attending a meeting of head librarians who were trying to address the problem of ebook purchase, and the agent reported heartfelt cries of "We need gatekeepers! Why won't these writers get editors?"

Well, just like in the eighteenth century, the self-published writer will either find her audience or won't, the audience will either like the book or turn away in indifference. Nobody has the formula for success, with or without an editor.

But for those who are sticking to the established publication route, what do you do when the editors (or agents) say, "Yes, but . . ."

Editors

Oct. 21st, 2012 07:46 am
sartorias: (Default)
While I was visiting [livejournal.com profile] asakiyume we had a small but excellent writing workshop. I came away all excited about what people had seen in my first chapter of a thing--the bad and the good. All during my travels I tinkered with that chapter, addressing issues that people saw, then I woke up the night before last and realized I have to scrap the entire thing except for the opening scene.

Writing is such a weird thing--we write for ourselves, but we also have an eye to the potential audience. We have things to say, but we often have to hide them. We are accused of saying things we didn't actually put into the text, because each book is different for each reader. And yet there is the shared sigh of satisfaction at this bit--or a general shudder for the horror reader at that incident, binding us together, those of us who read and reacted to the same book. One of the most powerful magics of fiction is the shared reaction.

The e-book revolution has returned the power of publication to the writer, as it was in the eighteenth century, when there were printers and booksellers, but no editors in the way we know them now. A New York agent was telling me a day or so ago, during a phone conversation, about attending a meeting of head librarians who were trying to address the problem of ebook purchase, and the agent reported heartfelt cries of "We need gatekeepers! Why won't these writers get editors?"

Well, just like in the eighteenth century, the self-published writer will either find her audience or won't, the audience will either like the book or turn away in indifference. Nobody has the formula for success, with or without an editor.

But for those who are sticking to the established publication route, what do you do when the editors (or agents) say, "Yes, but . . ."
sartorias: (Default)
I'm in beautiful western Massachusetts today, after an excellent day yesterday workshopping some chapters or stories with a bunch of other writers.I got good feedback on a much-written opening that is going back for more retooling.

We broke to amble through the woods (imagine having woods right by your house!) and I gloated to myself about how I am missing more hundred degree temps at home. I wore long sleeves yesterday, ha ha ha!

Other than that, BVC is doing a full week about banned books for Banned Books Week. Here is my entry--Put her in the Fire!.

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