26 March 2013

unrealistic dialogue

We hope you've been enjoying the fabulous February 28, 2013 issue of Electric Spec! In the meantime, we've started in on the slush pile for the marvelous May 31, 2013 issue. :) One story reminded me of a writing secret, namely, dialogue should be unrealistic.

What's that? You don't believe me? I challenge you to eavesdrop on any conversing humans. You'll hear something like:
"How's it going, dude?"
"Good. How's it going with you?"
"It's going good. How's it going with you?"
"Good. Did you catch that game?"
"Whoa. Yeah. Did I? Whoa."
"Can you believe it?"
"Crazy, dude."

Okay, I can't take any more! And that's not even including the "um's", "so's" and "like's" people throw in all over the place. No one wants to read that. I actually read a story from the slush pile that had at least a page of that type of dialogue. Suffice it to say, I didn't make it to page two. (Sorry, dude!)

Keep sending us your stories with unrealistic dialogue. :)

12 March 2013

Unconscious Revelations

Once upon a time, a writer got a critique in which her well-written protagonist was praised for being unique. This uniqueness took the form of being narcissistic and racist. The writer in question was surprised that readers perceived the character this way.
Another time, a writer created a protagonist who was brave and smart and deboniar--think a scientist version of James Bond. Basically, he could do anything from run a mass spectrometer to shoot a sniper rifle--and the women swooned over him.
In yet another example, a writer created an evil antagonist who ended up being the protagonist's father. And--wait for it--the next book the author wrote also had an evil father antagonist.

What do all these examples have in common? I believe the authors unconsciously revealed some aspects of their personality or paradigm. The 2nd author thinks he is like a scientist/James Bond. The 3rd author has a bad relationship with her father.

Is unconscious revelation bad? I'd say: no. As authors we have to use all the tools at our disposal, including our unconscious and our subconsious. In fact, in my experience, first novels often involve a lot of unconscious revelation.
I think this is another reason it's great to get feedback on your writing. If the reader thinks the protagonist has qualities the author didn't want him to have ==> change him! That's one of the beauties of being The Author, Great and Powerful. :)

Good luck with your conscious and unconscious revelations!
Hhm... Maybe I should go reread my first novel.

05 March 2013

Story Layers

I recently read an excellent novella, "Act One" by Nancy Kress. (You can read the beginning in Asimov's Science Fiction). I believe it was a 2009 Nebula Nominee. The beauty of this story is it works on multiple layers.
One layer is the external plot: An aging actress named Jane Snow is researching her role in a controversial film about a recently discovered genetic modification. The real-life procedure is proliferated by a mysterious organization known as The Group whose long-term plans are to reshape humanity. Some see them as benefactors while others see them as biological terrorists. When Jane and her manager, Barry Tenler (the point-of-view character), meet with members of The Group they are the catalyst of a global conspiracy. Can Jane and Barry stop it? Deal with it? Survive it?

One layer is the fascinating issues of genetic engineering. The story raises the important and topical questions of the ethics of genetic modification. Should humans be genetically modified? When would it be all right? To save a life? To avert war? As you can imagine, there's a lot of thought-provoking content here.

One layer, perhaps the most important layer, is the character arc of the protagonist Barry. Barry is the perfect character to tell this story because he has to deal with his own genetic challenges. And, because of this challenge, he attempted genetic modification of his son. Suffice it to say, this didn't go well, and Barry's life totally fell apart. At the end of the story, through the events of the story, Barry learns to accept and deal with his personal demons and the effects his actions have had on the people who love him.
I believe it is this layer that elevates the story from good to outstanding.

As writers, we should always strive to show our characters changing, learning, growing as a result of the story. A nice (and free) example of this is "Heart of a Magpie" by Kathryn Yelinek in the current issue of Electric Spec. In this story the protagonist, Marion, has to deal with a supernatural menace, and she eventually utilizes the help of another supernatural creature to defeat it. What makes this story better than the average story is the internal layer, the character arc, of the protagonist. In the beginning, Marion is reeling from some unfortunate events, and blames some people in her life for them. By the end of the story, because of the story events, she comes to realize these people aren't irredeemable. She deals with her life in a more positive way, and starts on the road to forgiveness.
Now, that's what I'm talking about!

How about you? Have you read any good stories lately?
Do you have any tips for creating story layers?