Category Archives: Resources for Writers

Exquisite Words

Posted on May 23, 2011 by

This fragment’s from Jo Walton’s Farthing.

All the same, there was enough of the Northerner left in him to distrust the Hampshire countryside that was doing its best to beguile him. The trees, so much more frequent and so much broader here than on his native moor, were in fullest leaf and cast a delightful shade. Beneath them spread as solid a carpet of bluebells as he had ever seen, sending their scent drifting into the car as he was driven on past them. The sun was shining from a deep blue sky, as it rarely shone on Lancashire, the fields were ploughed and planted, and the hay was already high, the grass was a verdant green, and the birds were singing. As if this wasn’t enough, every few miles the road wound its way through a little village with a church, a pub, a post office, thatched cottages, and just sufficient individuality to tell it from the last one.

What I like about it is that she uses the narrator’s point of view to inject a bit of attitude into the picture-postcard description. On the one hand it’s a lovely, bucolic bit of scenery, and on the other we see the way that gets up this character’s nose. It holds a mirror up to him, you might say, but in an interesting way.

Literary blackmail, televised DIY surgery and other lite squicks

Posted on May 20, 2011 by

I wrote a post this week for TOR.COM, about blackmail in fiction, and in Veronica Mars. The post is here; I hope to follow it up with some musings on other varieties of crime. Let me know what you think?

Second: I dunno how many of you have seen this past week’s new episode of a certain medical drama, so I’ll confine my comments on that to “OMG, squick! Ewww!” Either you know what I mean or that evil chuckle you hear is your DVR, waiting for you to boot it up.

Also TV adjacent, I am 3/5 of the way through watching Mildred Pierce on HBO and should probably hold my tongue until I see the conclusion, but I have to say that as viewing experiences go, this one so far has been entirely bizarre. Kate Winslet is fantastic, as usual, and her Lauren Bacall accent is a marvel to hear. And I’m always so happy to see Melissa Leo in anything.

But the story–I haven’t read the original novel–has all this peculiar class and gender stuff.

The message so far seems to be that men are useless parasites, and… um… something about social class and snobbery involving Guy Pearce’s naked bum. Seriously. The class stuff is, at this mid-point in the story, entirely murky. Mildred was a snob, but now she seems to be evolving. Unless she isn’t. It’s incredibly hard to tell.

The story is just intriguing enough to keep me watching, but it’s also very cold. Kate as Mildred seems as though she should be poised to be a source of joy and warmth in an otherwise harsh and chilly world, but she’s as icy as everyone and everything else. I am entirely baffled by it.

Opportunities for new writers

Posted on May 18, 2011 by

A very exciting newsflash: author Saladin Ahmed is offering one on one mentoring for interested writers:

I am pleased to announce that I am currently offering a limited number of one-on-one creative writing mentorships. These mentorships will be individually tailored to the needs of the client, involving a combination of detailed manuscript critique and advice on publication and professionalization. My areas of teaching expertise include poetry and fantasy fiction.

Full details are here.

Second, PEN USA’s Emerging Voices Fellowship is open for applications. This is a terrific program. One of my students, Natashia Deón, was a PEN fellow, and everything I heard about it from her made it sound like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Exquisite Words

Posted on May 16, 2011 by

I haven’t been posting many text fragments lately… becoming more of an e-books person has helped me to fall out of the habit of collecting them. But since I’m working on reading more I want to get back into this habit, and I also want to post some of the lovely bits and pieces I’ve collected but never posted. And one of my favorites–even though it’s very short–is this crisp, elegant, utterly perfect image from Samuel R. Delaney.

The moon, revealed once more, was a polished bone joint jammed on the sky.

–Samuel R. Delaney, THE EINSTEIN INTERSECTION

What I admire about this is that it has the economy and precision of poetry–it needs nothing more than what it already has.

Characterization: getting versus wanting

Posted on May 2, 2011 by

There is a catchy phrase that comes up in various types of motivational speaking:

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

I’ve known this one for awhile, and as far as fortune-cookie delivered Life Lessons go, I agree with the underlying philosophy. But K and I were walking in the West End last weekend, and we came upon a commercial sandwich board with this taped on it:

“If you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done.”

Also catchy, and in some ways the exact same message, but I’m fascinated by the difference in nuance that comes with the altered wording. The first has such a freight of passivity: the ‘you’ is getting something–presumably something they no longer want, or maybe never did. My imagination is offering up a steaming bucket of something from a stable-mucking, delivered weekly to your door.

The second, meanwhile is about wanting something new. It’s about running to, rather than running away.

Both get the general idea across quite succinctly–but the latter phrasing is more positive, more of a call to action. In comparison, the first is a bit of a finger wag, a lecture from a judgmental imaginary parent figure. “If you’re just gonna insist on playing your electric guitar in the hot tub, young fella, don’t come crying to me when you do the electric boogaloo.”

It is easy to imagine the one phrase as a draft and the other as revision, the one as good enough wording and the second as a perfected version, as final copy. It’s especially easy because, as writers, we frown on certain types of linguistic passiveness. In reality, they are two different takes on the same idea, gleaned from different sources.

Still. It may be useful to think of them that way, perhaps especially when we talk about making our characters more active. Are they getting what they always got when they’re meant to be pulling a novel forward? Do they want something they never had? Do they want anything at all?

Finally, how do you shift them to chasing their desires, if what they’ve really been doing is just opening up the door every morning to see what life has handed them?

***
On another topic, word metrics on the current wip: Saturday, 450 words. Sunday, 822.