26 September 2012

invisible intentions

I had a funny thing happen recently. I finished the first draft of a story and followed my own advice: I asked several critique partners what happened in the story. I got several totally different interpretations!
You either have to laugh or cry. I choose to laugh. :)
A couple people did interpret the story the way I intended it. A lot of people went off on weird tangents, taking small story details and running with them. So, yes, I will be working on that story today and I will be removing all those apparently intriguing details.

This experience relates to Verlyn Klinkenborg's blog at The New York Times from earlier this week: The Trouble With Intentions. Among other things he says,
Your opinion of what your sentence means is always overruled by what your sentence literally says. and This means you’ll need to write, and revise, as if your intentions were invisible and your sentences will be doing all the talking, all on their own. This may be the hardest thing a writer has to learn.

I agree. This is one of the hardest thing a writer has to learn. The hardest thing for me, however, is divorcing my intentions from the literal sentences, seeing what is really on the page. Klinkenborg also says,
Seeing what your sentences actually say is never easy, but it gets easier with practice.

Good luck to all of us!

19 September 2012

notes from the slush pile

I guess by now the heart-pounding thrills and chills of the August 31, 2012 issue of Electric Spec has started to wear off. Time marches on, so, we've started working on the new November 30, 2012 issue. We have a lead on a neat interview! Stay tuned for more info in November.
As a heads-up, we will close to submissions for that issue on October 15, 2012.

Anyway, I've been going through my slush pile...
I did come across a couple of head-scratchers. By this I mean I read the whole story and I couldn't figure out what happened. I strongly suggest every author get another set of eyes on their work before submission. This can be your significant other, Mom, BFF, or whatever. But, after they read it, ask them what they think happened. If all they can say is: "It was good." or "I liked it." They are a true friend BUT you probably need to work on the story some more.

I also came across a couple stories where the protagonist didn't do anything. I'm not saying they tried to do something and failed--that would be fine. I'm saying they didn't even try to do anything. I'm sorry, but this editor doesn't think that's a story. Authors should always investigate their market before submitting.

There were some stories with totally unrealistic dialogue. An easy way to spot this is to read the story out loud, by yourself, or with a friend.

There were some stories with major info-dumping. Bummer. This kind of thing went out in like the 1950s. Characters should never discuss something they all already know, e.g.

"As you know, Bob, my new warp drive bends space-time in front of and behind a vessel rather than attempting to propel the vessel itself at light-speeds."

"Yes, Joe. That was a good idea."

No. Generally, authors don't want to give the reader info in paragraphs of narrative either. The bottom line on info is: less is more. Instead, show us. For example, what happens when the Alcubierre Drive fails?

Of course, there were also some very good stories in my slush pile that made it into hold for voting. Hopefully, you'll get to read them too.

I look forward to reading your story! Keep sending them in.

12 September 2012

optimism or pessimism in fiction

I just finished an awesome book This Shared Dream by Kathleen Ann Goonan in which the characters tried to eliminate war and suffering on Earth.

It reminded me of fascinating comments made by Robert J. Sawyer in reference to his WWW Trilogy in an interview. I asked about the idea of a moral arrow through time: "the same force-complexity-that produces consciousness also naturally generates morality, and that as interdependence increases, both intelligence and morality will increase."

He said, You may say I'm a dreamer-but I'm not the only one. My own thinking on these issues has been informed by many other people, including the Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and nonfiction author Robert Wright, who wrote Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny and more recently The Evolution of God. Bob and I were recently both speaking at a public-policy conference in Washington, DC., sponsored by the New America Foundation; it was the first time we'd met, and we've become friends. But, yes, I'm a dreamer, and an optimist, but I'm also a realist, I think-and I don't think those are contradictory things to be.
This fiction is uplifting and optimistic! Optimism in fiction can be very effective.

At the other extreme, I just started reading The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi. This book is very dark and dramatic. The teaser copy says Soldier boys emerged from the darkness. Guns gleamed dully. Bullet bandoliers and scars draped their bare chests. Ugly brands scored their faces. She knew why these soldier boys had come. She knew what they sought, and she knew, too, that if they found it, her best friend would surely die.

This reminds me of fascinating comments made by Warren Hammond in reference to his KOP Trilogy in an interview. I asked: SF academic Edward James has said "the ability of the writer to imagine a better place in which to live died in the course of the twentieth century, extinguished by the horrors of total war, of genocide and of totalitarianism." Do you agree? Disagree?

He said, I've never heard that before, but I have to agree. I don't think it's true for all writers, but it is for me. I've seen the ovens of Auchwitz and toured S-21, the Khmer Rouge's infamous prison that held an estimated 17,000 prisoners between 1975 and 1979. Of the 17,000 prisoners who went in, there were only seven survivors. Seven.

The truly horrifying thing is knowing these atrocities were committed by regular people. Not all Nazis were monsters. And not all Khmer Rouge were monsters. Many were patriots. Many were idealists. Many were just scared to stand up to authority.

Knowing how easy it is for humans to kill each other, I find it impossible to imagine a future where our problems will all be solved.
Very dramatic! Clearly, pessimism can also be very effective in fiction.

What's your preference in reading and writing? Optimism or pessimism?

05 September 2012

keep learning

We hope you continue to enjoy the latest edition of Electric Spec. What's your favorite story or feature? I know, it is a tough choice! :)

This week is also a big one for the Electric Spec Editors. Starting Friday Sept. 7, we'll all be at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer's annual conference: Colorado Gold. I can't recommend this conference enough. There will be lots of special speakers and guests including Jodi Thomas, Debra Dixon, Beth Miller, Jennifer Unter, Katharine Sands, Anita Mumm, Carlie Webber, Nephele Tempest, James Minz, Erika Imranyl, Peter Senftleben, Liz Pelletier, Libby Murphy, and Terri Bischoff.
There will tons of panels and workshops besides the totally awesome "Short Story Workshop" with the Electric Spec Editors. In short there will be many, many opportunities for learning about writing. If you've signed up already: Great! See you there! If not, there are a few spots still available, or consider it for next year.

The point I'm trying to make, however is, writers need to keep learning and improving their craft. How? Well, I'll tell you. :)

  • Write! This is the most important thing. Your writing can't evolve if you don't write.
  • Get feedback and consider it. This can be a critique group or beta reader or whatever, but it needs to be honest feedback. As a writer, then, you need to consider this. I'm absolutely not saying you need to do what readers or critiquers tell you to do.
  • Read and study fiction. Try to decipher what works and what doesn't work. Think about it. Write it down. Talk it over with your significant other or writer friend.
  • Read and study writing about writing. There are a lot of good books, articles, and blog entries out there about writing. What are my favorites? That's a tough choice, but some good books include: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon, On Writing by Stephen King, Story by Robert McKee, and Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. I'm sure you have your own favorites. If not, find some. :)
  • Your learning suggestion here.
Happy learning!