Saturday, September 17, 2005

Cioppino

Holly rants about moderation and common sense. Yeah, I beat my head against brick walls, too, darling. See my previous comments about lost causes and slaying windmills.

Melly spreads the good word about the Writers Blog Alliance. This is an excellent effort towards mutual support and promotion for writers. Check it out. It's free, for now.

Zette posts a link to LibraryThing.com, where you can catalog your book collection for free. That's a hell of a thing to do to a librarian, Zette. That's going to through my article on character development for short stories way behind schedule. So there.

And finally, Heather comments on the threads that tie us all together.

That one hit close to home. Real close. Many times in my life I have wanted nothing so desperately as to just shut down, just curl up and go catatonic for a day, a week, a month, forever, try to shut out the noise and confusion and stress and figure things out and, most of all, just rest. Several times I have even tried, but, every time, those damn threads tighten up, they pull me upright and dangle me in the air, a marionette dancing to the Devil's tune, until I get my balance, put my feet on the ground and get going again.

"No man is an island," as John Dunne so poetically said. We are tied to our family, our friends, each other. Sometimes the threads get tangled, sometimes they break, sometimes we think they are going to strangle us or wrap us up so tight we can't move. Sometimes they are our lifelines. Sometimes those fragile threads are all we have hang on to while we dangle over the abyss. Sometimes they pull us back whether we want them to or not.

There have been times when I have cursed those threads, tried to cut them, to get free, but those who are bound to me are tenacious. They don't let go, no matter how hard I try. Sometimes I curse them and beg them to just let me die. Most of the time, I feel how blessed I am to have people in this world who care about me. Even I, wart-covered insignificant me, have ties to love and support. There are angels in the world.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Who Do You Want Me To Be?

Demented Michelle quotes Selah March who writes about an agent she met at a conference who "strongly suggested":

...that an author not put anything in her blog that she wouldn't put in a
cover letter to an editor, or a brochure advertising her work. No controversy.
No overtly political opinions. Nothing that might turn folks off, whether those
folks be potential editors, agents or readers.

Now this just touches a nerve with me. Touches, hell! It scrapes a cheese grater across my sunburned back.

In my mind, it's not my job as a writer to be pleasing, gentle, tapioca pudding. It's my job to be honest about the world and what I see and think and feel. It's my job to tell the truths I see around me and inside me. Fuzzy, warm, pink-and-white bunny rabbits shot in soft focus may be all well and good for some people, but don't look for them here. You'll be more likely to find hassenpfeffer and good-luck charms.

I am who I am. Some people like me, a lot of people don't. I'm cool with that. The thing is, I have standards (which I have spoken of before on this blog and will again, so there!), one of which is that I'm not going to lie about who or what I am, not even by omission. Any agent or editor seeking to avoid tame my opinions and avoid controversy won't be my agent or editor. It's that simple. As I've also said before, that's going to hurt my chances in some circles and make my career harder than some. I'm cool with that, too.

What's more important to me is that I know that I am true to who I am, that I'm real, that everyone knows what to expect from me, which is that I'm straightforward and opinionated and that I'm learning to be honest with myself and with the rest of the world. If I never break into the Big Time, if I never get that legendary 6-figure advance, that's OK. Fame and money are secondary issues in my life and in my work. Truth is Number One.

By the way, DM's story "Catalytic Poltergeist" is up at ScienceFictionFantasyHorror.com. Good story. After you read it, drop her a line and let her know how much you enjoyed it.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

As Ye Sow...

Melly and Paperback Writer wrote yesterday about critiquing, so I shall take up the gauntlet and make it a trifecta. Far be it from me to leave any bandwagon un-leapt-upon. Therefore, I present my list of Ten Things To Put Into A Critique (drum roll, please):

1. First Impression - when you read a manuscript for the first time, read it with eyes and mind open and mouth shut. Read it simply as you would a story you came across in a magazine or a novel you just picked off the shelf while browsing. When you reach the end, consider what and how you feel. How did the story affect you? This would also be a good time to make note of any places that threw you out of the story. First impressions are vital; this is invaluable information for you to provide the vic...um...writer.

2. Theme - Sum up in one sentence or less the theme of the story. This does two things. First, it gets you thinking about the essence of the story, which segues directly into how well the writer communicated it. Second, it gives the writer a checkpoint to make sure you "got" the story. A breakdown on this level indicates a fundamental problem that has to be addressed. Sometimes, though, a story will surprise even its author by being something different from what he expected. No matter what the outcome, this theme statement gets the writer and critiquer onto the same page.

3. Plot - Summarize the plot as succinctly as possible, preferably in a single paragraph. This shows both parties that the important plot points were made, and that the plotline hangs together all the way through. This is the place to note any obvious or potential holes or plot problems. Is the logic consistent with the story's internal world? Does a character suddenly go idiotic in order to advance the plot? Is there a satisfying resolution to the story? Does the Deus Ex Machina suddenly reach down from Heaven to make everything right in the end?

4. Characters - Briefly explore each of the major characters in the story. What are their motivations? What are their conflicts and driving forces? Virtues and vices? Are they real or cardboard? Why? What rings true about the characters and what does not? Do you care about them? Why or why not?

5. Dialogue - Is it real? Stilted? Any infodumps? Any "as you know, Bob"s? Tom Swifties? What about the dialogue tags? There is nothing wrong with "said". From the characters' words and actions and from the context, the reader should "hear" the emphases and tone of the speaker without extraneous adverbs. Does the speaker's tone and vocabulary reflect his/her/it's personality, or does everybody sound the same? Does the car mechanic character use words like "extraneous"? If so, he should be shown to be more educated or refined than your average grease-monkey.

6. Structure - Is this a linear chronological narrative, or does it skip around? Do the scenes flow smoothly and logically? Are any flashbacks necessary? Are they intrusive, or do they grow naturally out of the preceding scenes? Do the scenes each advance the story? Is the point of view appropriate? Any head-hopping? Sudden changes in POV character or other difficulties?

7. Grammar and Language - Imagine yourself as the most pedantic and nitpicking English teacher in the history of the language. Point out punctuation problems and provide some authority for why you think they should be different. This is a good place to catch spelling problems as well as homonym confusion (its-it's, two-to-too, hair-hare, etc.). Too many adjectives and/or adverbs? Root them out. Is sentence structure straightforward or convoluted? Does that add to or subtract from the story? Does the language reflect the story (i.e., smooth, slow words and sentences for relaxed areas, short, choppy sentences and words for action sequences)?

8. What You Liked - Pick out the things about the story that you particularly liked. Explain why they worked and what you liked about them. This is a very important point that should not be overlooked. Writers are notoriously paranoid and unsure of ourselves. We need our strokes. Tell us what we did right, so we can take note of that for future reference.

9. What You Did Not Like - In general terms, what stood out the most in this story as problems? What are the most obvious, most irksome areas? Any suggestions on how to possibly improve them?

10. Overall Impression - Is the story salvageable? Should the writer shitcan it and start over? Tweak it a little bit and submit like crazy? Sum it up, concisely, if possible. This is also a good place to drop in any notes not addressed above, if any.

(TA-DAAA!)

Critiques should always be done in a manner that will benefit the writer and the story.

Suit your language to the particular writer. I like critiquers of my stories to use knives and hammers. Rip it up, shred it, mutilate it and show be the bloody stumps that remain. In my mind, plain speaking and honesty save a lot of time on both ends. The critiquer does not have to put a lot of effort into figuring out how to be diplomatic, and I don't have to spend a lot of time trying to decode their messages. Just tell me flat out and be done with it, so I can get to work fixing the story.

Other people are more sensitive and require a softer touch. Find out ahead of time to avoid hard feelings.

Above all else, keep in mind that the writer is asking you for your help and advice. Give positive, constructive suggestions wherever possible. Offer your thoughts on how problems might be corrected. The writer, of course, has the final say-so over the story, they have asked for your advice, and you should give it.

Finally, remember that you get out of a critique as much as you put into it. Analyzing someone else's work teaches you about your own. Pointing out problems helps you see the same problems in your own writing. A good, thorough critique benefits both parties equally. A half-assed effort benefits nobody.

Edited @ 5:06 pm to add a pointer to the critique template by Holly Lisle at Forward Motion that is the foundation for this outline,
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