What do you think?
For more on my take on protagonists see: P is for Protagonist.
For more on my take on protagonists see: P is for Protagonist.
Szalai says, The scholar Nina Baym has pointed out how “stories of female frustration are not perceived as commenting on, or containing, the essence of our culture.” Stories of male frustration, on the other hand — especially those “melodramas of beset manhood” in which men struggle with the siren call of comfort and domesticity — jibe more neatly with what we expect serious literature to be. Men's self-discovery is hunting for big game; women's self-discovery amounts to tidying up around the house. Szalai's central thesis seems to be that American culture, at least American literary culture, is still hobbled by sexism. Instead of the Great American Novel, maybe we should be talking more about our Great American Fixation, the insistent desire to find the book that tells us who we are. How we define that search — what counts, what doesn’t — has said as much about “the American soul” as any novel that’s supposed to do the same.
Hamid asks the question What else are those mind-blowing late-20th-century works by such American women as, among others, Kingston and Kingsolver, Morrison and Robinson, L’Engle and Le Guin, if not great novels? But he says, "...they aren't the Great American Novel. ...There is no such thing." Hamid concludes "Literature is where we free ourselves." Why even worry about labels like 'The Great American Novel?'
Fallon correctly notes, however, "...the quest will continue, with or without you." She makes a lot of interesting points, including, Our discussion of the Great American novel is actually a fantastic opportunity to challenge our ingrained conception of what an "everyman" in America can look like. Can an everyman be a woman, or black, or a recent immigrant from Mexico? Can an everyman be disabled, gay, or have parents who moved here from Taiwan? It's instinctive to designate such narratives as great or definitive books about being black in America, or about a being a woman seeking self-discovery, or about LGBT communities -- but these narratives are not any less purely American than those of white, straight men seeking their own identities or fortunes across the country.
Hurray, Ms. Fallon. I'm ready and waiting for the everyman story which just happens to be about a female, black, disabled, gay Mexican-Taiwanese-American. Because, really, what is this thing we call The Great American Novel?
It's our story.
|I recently read InterWorld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves. I really enjoyed this novel. In fact, it might be my favorite of Gaiman's work. I'm surprised there isn't more buzz about it. Gaiman claims it originated as an idea for a TV show. Could this be the reason why it isn't more lauded? It's too commercial?|
Some things I did not expect. One thing I've learned is literary fiction really likes ambiguity and subtlety. If the reader can't tell what's going on...that's a good thing. Another surprise was story structure can b e very important. According to a literary creative writing teacher here are the elements of a story:
What is the one thing every story must have? Conflict. I agree conflict is very important...but how do you have a story or conflict without a character? I'm still scratching my head about that one.
What do you think?
|I read an interesting book recently, The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. In Ocean the nameless adult protagonist returns home to Sussex for a funeral, wanders onto his old neighbors' property and recalls a childhood adventure. It's a beautifully-written engrossing, terrifying adventure to be sure.|
All in all, I'm not sure I got this book. The protagonist seems to be remembering his childhood to gain some secret power/weapon/knowledge but he immediately forgets. Moreover, the reader's told he has remembered and forgotten it before. Apparently the protagonist--and by extension all adults (?)--are doomed to ignorance and powerlessness. Or...?
What do you think this book is about?
Our Guest Author of the Year, Rob Thurman, seemed to have a good time. Check out her blog entry:
Writers Cons Vs. Fan Cons.
Will I be seeing you there next year? :)
Are there any writers cons you really like?
After reading a story I often step back and consider what was the point of this? Mrs. Hopewell is not happy
with her Ph.D. atheist daughter and in the course of the story poor Joy/Hulga has a bad experience/rude awakening as a result of her paradigm. I can only conclude at least part of O'Connor's goal was to show intellectualism and atheism are basically wrong/bad/stupid/insert-your-favorite-nagative-word-here. Can the reader infer a greater meaning? Such as: even 'good country person' and devout Catholic Mrs. Hopewell should examine her preconceptions? Sure. O'Connor may have meant to convey this as well.
Overall, I'm getting a very didactic tone from this story.
Ms. O'Connor didn't really get the recognition she deserved for her writing. I think this is because she was a woman and especially because she wrote about poor southerners.
Or, maybe it was because she was so didactic.
What do you think?
Of course, you can't say that about "Usher" because it was written before all those other stories. When you're one of the first, you can't be a cliche. :)
"Usher" is the quintessential gothic horror story, the story that influenced all others that came after. What exactly is gothic fiction? Some say it's the mode of literature that combines elements of romance and horror. The name gothic supposedly refers to the medieval or pseudo-medieval buildings in which the stories take place. What is horror fiction? This one is harder to pin down. The Horror Writers Association says horror is fiction that elicits fear and/or dread in the reader. Thus, horror can be about or include anything as long as it elicits the desired emotional reaction(s).
Are you a horror reader? A horror writer? What do you like best about it?
As the letter from the editors says,
...of the stories in this issue: you're gonna love 'em. Get this--zombies hungry for artificial babies in "Little Miss Saigon" by Malon Edwards. In C.R. Hodge's "Queen Meabh," a Scottish spirit kick's some archeologist ass. And if you wanna go totally post-apocalypse, step down into the fall out shelter in "For Want of Stars" by Beth Ceto. Speaking of a post-disaster world, what to you do when indescribable death machines kill everyone else but ignore you? Find out in "Amelia Amongst Machines" by David Brookes. Finally, look how complicated your love life can get when it gets too "spirited" in David W. Landrum's "Someone."
Read on, brothers and sisters!
Thank you very much behind-the-scenes folks, including our authors (Yay!), our artist (Yay!), our tech guys, and our associate editors (Yay!). We couldn't have done it without you.
Drop us a line in the comments and let us know what you think of the issue. What's your favorite story?
|A friend from work loaned me an interesting novel this summer: The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood. I really enjoyed this! I think it's because the writing is beaut ifully lyrical, the protagonist is very likeable, and the topics of sanity/insan ity and the power of music are fascinating.Wood uses a great writerly trick: we start out at a crime scene and then go back in time to observe the relationships of the people involved. Thus, the reader has a sense of dread throughout, wondering: Who will die? Who commits the crimes? and most of all, Why? Great tension!|
As I said above, I did not purchase this novel. Authors do deserve to be paid for their work. But, since I've probably already spent a few hundred dollars on books this year, I don't feel guilty about it. In fact, I highly recommend sharing your favorite books with your friends.
What's your favorite novel lately? Who do you know who might like it?
What does this mean for authors? It means we really need to show, not tell. Words with odor associations activate the smelling portion of our brain. Words with motion associations activate the parts of our brain associated with moving. Words associated with textures or other tactile sensations activate the parts of our brain associated with touch. Let's use all the amazing words and mental associations at our disposal. :)
What's your favorite sensory word? Use it!
|I read Big Girl Panties by Stephanie Evanovich recently. It has a humorous and intriguing title and, of course, Stephanie Evanovich comes from a famous writing family, so I had high hopes. ;) In a nutshell, this is the story of a thirty-two-year-old widow with weight issues who meets a handsome single personal trainer... It's a romance, so you know what's going to happen. Evanovich does a nice job; this is well-written.|
In my unscientific survey, I deduced a lot of novels involve wish fulfillment fantasies. And a lot of them sell very, very well.
What do you think? Do you like reading wish fulfillments? Writing wish fulfillments? If so, you're not alone. ;)
|I got a big box of books from my folks when they downsized and I've been making my way through it this summer. I was very happy when I started reading Blessings by Anna Quindlen. This was a book I loved when I read it the first time, but somehow forgot the title. I rediscovered an old friend. Huzzah! In a nutshell this is the story of an old woman and a young man who have to deal with a foundling left at their front door, and which, in turn, enables them to deal with the decisions in their pasts that made them who they are.|
And ...taken altogether it was something almost perfect, the sort of place that, from the road...promised plenty without pretense, ease without arrogance. From the road Blessings looked like a place where people would sit on the terrace at dusk, sip a drink and exult in the night breeze over the mountain, pull a light cardigan around their shoulders, and go to bed content.
Quindlen does an excellent job of evoking feelings in the reader--which is, in fact, our primary responsibility as authors.
Good luck with your own evocations!
|I read an interesting book recently, Flashback by Dan Simmons. Set in the future, it's essentially a murder mystery with a disgraced ex-detective being forced to solved the murder of a powerful man's son. The title refers to flashback, a drug that most Americans are addicted to, in which you flash back to memories from your past. As you can imagine, this doesn't bode too well for the U.S. economy, etc. In Flashback the U.S. and most of the rest of the world's civilizations have been destroyed.|
Furthermore, in this world, Simmons writes the U.S. was totally bankrupted/destroyed by its entitlement programs. Europe was destroyed by its socialist policies. In addition, Simmons states multiple times that anthropogenic climate change is a "hoax". He mentions one lab repeatedly where this nefarious research took place and which is the site of horrific research in the novel. (Never mind the hundreds of other universities and labs that do research in this area which are never mentioned.)
To make a long story short, Tea Partiers would love this book.
Before reading this novel I had no idea what Mr. Simmons' personal political views were...but I have a pretty strong feeling I do now.
Should you include strong political views in your novel? In my opinion: caveat scriptor.
|I read an interesting book recently, The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman. It tells the story of a disadvantaged mother in 1831 England and what she does to protect her baby in the midst of a cholera epidemic. "Dress lodging" refers to a whore renting a fancy dress so she can attract fancier johns. It's a very dramatic story and well-written. Moreover, it has an interesting point-of-view, with the author often addressing the reader. I don't think it will be too much of a spoiler to reveal some people do die of cholera.|
What do you think will happen to the dress lodger? A happy ending? Death via cholera?
Whatever you decide it says a lot about you. :)
|Literary and "mainstream" fiction also seem to involve a lot of telling. I recently read The Time in Between by Maria Duenas. It was very good, but it involved a lot of telling, summarizing the story, rather than showing us the story. Speaking of summarizing, it is the story of Sira, a young woman in humble circumstances living in Spain at the time of the Spanish civil war and World War II, and who must do some surprising things to survive. The title refers to those who live without history taking note of their lives. Like all good fiction, this novel raises questions like: What is the point of life? How would I act and react in such dire circumstances? etc. This novel covers a lot of historical ground, so telling is totally appropriate.|
How about you? Do you like to show? or tell?
Have you read any good books lately?
Guest post from Jamie Ferguson:
A while back I finally got back in the groove and started focusing on my writing again. I wanted to finish my book, but I also gave myself the okay to take it slow because I didn't want to get burnt out and stop. I was moving at a glacial pace, but I was moving!
I started to pick up steam last fall. My editor had given me exactly the kind of feedback I needed, I was making progress on editing my book, and I took a writing class from Dean Wesley Smith. But this wasn't enough. I wanted to make real changes in my life. I didn't want to work on my manuscript for a day or two, then do nothing for 3 weeks. I like to compare writing to exercise - when you're in shape, you can't not exercise...but when you're trying to get in shape, you'll use even the most ridiculous excuses to avoid doing anything. I wanted to be in writing shape.
The plan I came up with was to incorporate a variety of writing-related activities into my life on a weekly, preferably daily, basis.
I signed up for two classes: one on book cover design, and one on interior book design. I eventually took another three writing classes. I tried out a few writing podcasts, finally settling on Writing Excuses as my favorite. I started reading writing blogs. I joined a small critique group. I worked on my manuscript whenever I had free time. And I started having writing happy hours with a few other writers. You can discount the latter, but I do not - talking with other writers helps keep you motivated. And combining it with wine doesn't hurt...
My idea was that if I involved myself in many different writing-related activities that I would be more likely to be able to stay focused. So if I took a little time off from my manuscript, but was taking classes, listening to podcasts, and going to a critique group, that I was still focused on writing. Kind of like if you take a few weeks off from running, but you're hiking and lifting weights, you're still used to the idea that exercise is a part of your life.
Incorporating all of this into my life was a challenge in the beginning, but I achieved what I wanted - seven months later I'm still writing diligently on a regular basis. My book was published in April, I'm about to publish a small short story collection, and I'm about 2/3 of the way through my second novel. My plan was a success!
Congratulations and thanks, Jamie!
Sookie, in particular, is a tour de force character. Harris has done a masterful job showing naive Sookie change and grow into a self-sufficient, wise woman who knows what she wants and knows how to get it. While Sookie isn't exactly a typical woman, she's not superwoman. She's flawed in the beginning of the series and flawed in the end, although less so. She has a lot of setbacks but always manages to pick herself up again and keep trying. She also wrestles with big picture ideas of good versus evil and what it means to be a good Christian. Kudos, Ms. Harris!
What's that? You don't like Sookie as much as I do? That's totally fine. The bottom line here is Harris has created the type of multidimensional character every author should strive for.
Another important take-away is: read, read, read. Not only is it great fun, but writers learn a lot from other writers.
Who's your favorite fictional character?
I freely admit getting critique is tough. It's difficult to hear that one's writing, one's baby, is not perfect. And sometimes feedback isn't helpful. In general, critique should be about how something is written, not what is written.
Here are some critique group tips from Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers:
How about you? Do you every not achieve your writing goals? How do you handle it?
A probable market is a market that accepts your type of work. This means you must do your background research. For short stories, a great speculative fiction resource is www.ralan.com. (Does anyone have a great general short fiction resource?) For literary agents, a great resource is www.agentquery.com. I've blogged about market before.
A timely fashion is a bit trickier. The industry convention for novels is you may query agents simultaneously for the same work. However, if you get asked for a partial or full manuscript, generally, the agent prefers an exclusive. The industry convention for short stories is NOT to submit the same story simultaneously. This means you can only submit to one market at a time. If you are submitting to a SFWA-approved professional market, for example, I would definitely abide by this rule. If you don't follow industry conventions, you run the risk of offending an editor or agent. That can have a negative impact on your career. Yikes!
Another fly in the ointment is publication. What exactly constitutes publication? If you post part or all of your story on your webpage, is this publication? What about a novel excerpt? What if it's posted on someone else's website or ezine? What if you get compensated? What if you don't? What about rewrites? How much do you have change to make a 'new' story? Regarding this stuff, just be honest and don't try to mislead anyone.
Of course, when the money starts rolling in you have to keep records of it for the tax man. :) I hope you have that problem!
I've tried quite a few things in pursuit of writing records including spreadsheets and databases and, I must admit, none of them work great. Do you have any good tips? If so, please let us know!
The bottom line is: it is important for writers to keep records. Good luck!
Some conferencs coming up include: Clarksville Writers Conference (June 6-7, 2013), the Carnegie Center’s “Books in Progress” Conference (June 7-8, 2013). Personally, one of my favorites is Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers annual conference (Sept. 20-22, 2013). I go every year. The deadline for their prestigious commercial novel contest "Colorado Gold" is approaching: June 1, 2013.
In general, a great place to find out about writers conferences is Poets & Writers: Writers Conferences, Colonies, and Workshops. Another excellent resource is the Shaw Guide to Writers Conferences & Writing Workshops. Does anyone have a favorite resource to share? Or a favorite conference to recommend?
Maybe I'll see you at a conference this summer!
It is precisely when it's inconvenient to write that one needs to write. This is your passion, after all, isn't it?
As long as you put one word at a time down on the screen or paper followed by the next word, and so on, you'll be okay. Keep on going!
On the one hand, literary novelists "create art" and "treasure fine writing and seek to capture the world the way it is..." On the other hand, commercial novelists "want to spin stories that delight readers" and "thrill, scare, and stir through a mastery of craft." Maass claims to give techniques to utilize methods of both literary and commercial fiction.
Chapter topics are:
As I've discussed here before, books are a collaboration between writer and reader, so your take-aways will differ from my take-aways. Some ideas I gleaned include: characters need to have a deep and true emotional landscape and plots need to be unpredictable. The four levels of story are: plot, scene, micro-tension, and art ("the way in which the author unfolds his intentions").
Perhaps the most surprising thing to me was Maass' discussion of beautiful writing. He says, "..beautifully written isn't just about imagery." And, "Beautiful writing is more than pretty prose. It creates resonance in readers' minds with parallels, reversals, and symbols. ...It engages the reader's mind with an urgent point, which we might call theme." Interesting. I'll have to ponder all this for a while.
If you're trying to improve your writing, I recommend this book.
A great story involves a compelling external plot with lots of twists and turns and which is linked inextricably with the protagonist's emotions and internal journey. In essence, a great story enables the reader to achieve a new understanding of what it means to be human.
Beautiful writing doesn't just mean pretty imagery and descriptions and lots of similes and metaphors, it also means all that stuff you studied in English class: symbols, parallels, reversals and all the rest. Thus, beautiful writing engages our intellect on both a conscious and subconscious level.
Wow! This is a lot for authors to live up to.
What do you think? Is it time for a new writing paradigm?
Long-time writers are chuckling/grimacing/nodding. I think we've all gotten The Email, probably more than once. Of course, my critique partner is over the moon. He thinks he's about to get an agent, who will, no doubt, sell his book very soon. Who knows, maybe all that will happen. I've heard tales of writers who DO get agents and DO sell their books. I really hope it happens for him. Good luck, buddy!
But... The first time I got The Email I was super-duper-excited. I dropped everything and revised, revised, revised, according to the agent's suggestions and sent it off with bated breath. I never heard anything back, despite eventual repeated attempts at contact on my part.
Over the years, this has happened a few times. I've even gotten The Call. This is the same thing but in verbal form. Again, after I sent off my revisions, I never heard back.
Somehow, I always do the revisions. And sometimes these revisions even result in a stronger book. I always seem to have a least a little trickle of excitement that I can't tamp down. Maybe writers are eternal optimists?
So, you will never guess what just happened... I got an email from an agent that says, "I love your book! I'd like to represent it, but before we sign a contract, please revise the entire thing and send it back to me." (!)
Wish me luck!
Good luck to you as well with The Email. :)
All this prompted me to wonder what my writing tips would be. So, without further ado, here are my off-the-cuff writing tips:
How about you? What are your writing tips?
But then I took a step back. Rather than try to force the WIP to go where I thought it should go, where else could it go? I brainstormed. What could happen, rather than what should happen? I thought of some new fresh ideas. I decided to abandon the old stale ideas, and, Huzzah! suddenly, I could write new stuff again. I wrote two chapters this week and have lots of ideas for additional chapters.
Yes, apparently, it is difficult to teach old writers new tricks. I should have listened to my intuition weeks ago. If something doesn't feel right, it's probably not right.
Intuition is there for a reason! Follow it!
How about you? Have you ever tried to ignore your intuition? What happened?
In Fantasy: The Liberation of Imagination, Richard Mathews says that fantasy “is a type of fiction that evokes wonder, mystery, or magic--a sense of possibility beyond the ordinary, material, rationally predictable world in which we live. . . . [it] is clearly related to the magical stories of myth, legend, fairy tale, and folklore from all over the world. . . . [It is] a fiction that elicits wonder through elements of the supernatural or impossible. It consciously breaks free from mundane reality” (1-2).
So, we're all on the same page regarding what fantasy is.
What about fairy tales? A.S. Byatt says, "The characters and motifs of fairy tales are simple and archetypal: princesses and goose-girls; youngest sons and gallant princes; ogres, giants, dragons, and trolls; wicked stepmothers and false heroes; fairy godmothers and other magical helpers, often talking horses, or foxes, or birds; glass mountains; and prohibitions and breaking of prohibitions." Apparently, the definition of fairy tale is less straightforward, but I agree with Byatt's comments.
My friends maintained that a fairy tale is merely a fantasy with an internally-inconsistent magic system. I'm not convinced. But, the beauty of being a creative artist type is: you can do what you want and call it what you want!
How about you? What would you say a fairy tale is?
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.
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
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?
However, last week Laura Miller disagreed in Sorry, the short story boom is bogus for Salon.com. She states, This would be good news — if there were any reason at all to think it was true. and goes on, at length, to discuss "this imaginary renaissance." This is also an interesting article. You should check it out, too.
To be fair, Miller does say, With the exception of certain communities of genre writer and readers — most notable in science fiction — these writers aren’t reaching a wider audience because they aren’t especially trying to.
As an author with a MFA, I'd say authors have always written short stories. It's a great way to hone your craft. Short stories also enable writers to experiment with all aspects of writing/story-telling. Historically, short story markets for mainstream and literary fiction have been limited. Is this still true?
As a student and writer of science fiction, there's a strong tradition of SF authors writing and selling short stories. SF was born in the pulp magazines. The biggest print pro-rate markets still exist and there have been some new pro-rate digital markets. I would say the SF short story market is booming.
As a reader, there are definitely a lot of new opportunities to buy short fiction via all the digital markets.
So, IMHO, readers are reading short fiction and authors are getting paid.
What do you think?
So, I went back to the last time something interesting happened and asked myself how can I keep the excitement level up? How can I make the action build? Obviously, my first idea—which I wrote—was boring. So I got out a sheet of paper and wrote: What could happen? What would be exciting? It was like pulling teeth, but I made a big list of possible events, some of them ridiculous, some of them silly, some of them boring. The rule was: nothing was off limits. Use your imagination.
I then picked an idea which was more exciting and wrote a new chapter.
After I finished the new, much better, chapter, I tried it again. What could happen? I picked a new interesting idea and wrote a new chapter. Rinse and repeat. :)
Yes, I did end up throwing out about five chapters, but now, my imagination is sparking. I can't seem to stop thinking of exciting new ideas for what happens next. Huzzah!
The moral of this story is: don't be afraid to change directions in your writing. Of course, everyone's process is different.
What process works for you?
Critique group exists to give feedback. Critiquers should say briefly what works in a piece, but they should also say what doesn't work. Critiquers should also be very specific. 'This rocks.' or 'This sucks.' do not contain any actionable information. 'This plot twist was unexpected but takes the work in a new and exciting direction.' is specific. 'When the protagonist beat up the little kid, he was very unsympathetic.' is specific. Be specific when critiquing!
I find I often say some of the same things over and over to critique partners. I'm not sure what to make of this. One of my MFA professors called this "bobble-headisms" and said each writer has certain mistakes they tend to make. The example he gave was one writer who's characters kept nodding their heads all the time. Good writers learn what mistakes they make and try to correct them before they submit to critique group or for publication. This particular professor recommended making a hit-list of writing problems and then looking for them after a draft is finished and wiping them out. Bam! Bam!
I started this post thinking about critique partners, but maybe I need to do my own homework. What mistakes do I tend to make? Hhm...
How about you? What mistakes do you tend to make? Do you know? How can you find out?
|I have a number of critique partners now and I've had scads more if you add up those from the past. And if there's one thing I've learned from all these writers it is: everyone's writing process is a snowflake--unique. (Please don't confuse this with The Snowflake Method of writing.)|
I do usually start with a Big Idea for my novels. Alternately, I have a writer friend who couldn't tell you what the Big Ideas are for her novels even after they've been published. Any amount of Big Idea can work.
What works for a lot of writers is to give themselves permission to write a crappy first draft. Then, you can go back and fix whatever you personally need to fix in rewrites. One of my critique partners has trouble with dialogue tags. One of my critique partners has trouble with descriptions. One of my critique partners has trouble with adverbs. IMHO, if you stop and obsess about getting everything perfect right out of the gate, you'll never make it to the finish line, aka "The End."
But, if you need to obsess, go for it. :)
Take advantage of your snowflake. Do whatever works for you! Good luck!
I've long been a fan of Robert Silverberg's theory of story. You can read about it on the web here: http://www.asimovs.com/_issue_0404/ref.shtml. The gist is: there is indeed one story only: the story of a conflict–perhaps with some external force, perhaps entirely within the soul of the protagonist–that leads to a clear resolution and illumination. The story paradigm was handed down through Western culture from the ancient Greek tragic drama.
But apparently this isn't the only story paradigm. Not all Earth cultures descended from the Greeks, after all. As De Bodard outlines, The great novels of the Ming and Qing dynasty (fourteenth century to twentieth century) are not plot or character-centered, and do not have a neat, tidy resolution or a climax. Rather, they aim to present a variety of images, themes, and personalities, ... “infinite overlapping and alternation,” a feeling of endlessness that is not rooted in some underlying meaning of the world.
What do you think? Does this free your creative juices to flow in new and unexpected directions?
And kudos to Asimov's Science Fiction for making such interesting articles available.
IMHO, Science Fiction and Fantasy are mainstream now. We live in a SF/F world with our cell phones, aka mini super-computers in the palms of our hands, quantum dot televisions, privatized space travel and all the rest. Almost all the highest worldwide movie grosses have been in the SF/F ouvre, e.g. Avatar, Marvel's The Avengers, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, etc. Conferences like Comic Con and their imitators are rampant. Many of the most popular TV shows are in the SF/F genre, such as Big Bang Theory, Supernatural, The Vampire Diaries, Once Upon a Time, Person of Interest, Revolution, Beauty and the Beast, Arrow, depending on which list you consult.
Even if we just focus on fiction, what do we see?
What were the best-selling books in 2012? Yep, you guessed it, many science fiction and fantasy titles, including The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay, Heroes of Olympus: The Mark of Athena, The Hobbit, A Game of Thrones, The kane Chronicales: The Serpent's Shadow, A Dance With Dragons, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords and a lot more. And that doesn't even include the whole Twilight vampire series which was super hot in 2010 and before, and the whole Harry Potter series which was white-hot in 2007 and before.
Here's another indication SF/F has become prevalent: Doris Lessing won the Novel Prize in Literature in 2007, partly for her "space fiction"--as she put it.
So that's my 2 cents, SF/F is as popular as Gangnam Style. :)
What do you think? Ghetto, or Gangnam Style?
Official White House Response to Secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016.
This Isn't the Petition Response You're Looking For
By Paul Shawcross
The Administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense, but a Death Star isn't on the horizon. Here are a few reasons:
However, look carefully (here's how) and you'll notice something already floating in the sky -- that's no Moon, it's a Space Station! Yes, we already have a giant, football field-sized International Space Station in orbit around the Earth that's helping us learn how humans can live and thrive in space for long durations. The Space Station has six astronauts -- American, Russian, and Canadian -- living in it right now, conducting research, learning how to live and work in space over long periods of time, routinely welcoming visiting spacecraft and repairing onboard garbage mashers, etc. We've also got two robot science labs -- one wielding a laser -- roving around Mars, looking at whether life ever existed on the Red Planet.
Keep in mind, space is no longer just government-only. Private American companies, through NASA's Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office (C3PO), are ferrying cargo -- and soon, crew -- to space for NASA, and are pursuing human missions to the Moon this decade.
Even though the United States doesn't have anything that can do the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, we've got two spacecraft leaving the Solar System and we're building a probe that will fly to the exterior layers of the Sun. We are discovering hundreds of new planets in other star systems and building a much more powerful successor to the Hubble Space Telescope that will see back to the early days of the universe.
We don't have a Death Star, but we do have floating robot assistants on the Space Station, a President who knows his way around a light saber and advanced (marshmallow) cannon, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is supporting research on building Luke's arm, floating droids, and quadruped walkers.
We are living in the future! Enjoy it. Or better yet, help build it by pursuing a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field. The President has held the first-ever White House science fairs and Astronomy Night on the South Lawn because he knows these domains are critical to our country's future, and to ensuring the United States continues leading the world in doing big things.
If you do pursue a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field, the Force will be with us! Remember, the Death Star's power to destroy a planet, or even a whole star system, is insignificant next to the power of the Force.
Paul Shawcross is Chief of the Science and Space Branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget
Excellent response, Mr. Shawcross!
As we settle into a new writing year, I'm trying to make the most of it. What did I learn from 2012? Sadly, at the end of 2012, one of my longtime critique partners quit critique group and quit writing. :( I have to respect his decision;it must be what's right for him. At the opposite extreme, another one of my longtime critique partners has an awesome new novel coming out in February 2013 from Nightshade Books. They both started writing seriously at about the same time, and they're both good writers. But they had very different outcomes. I guess you never know what's going to happen.
So, I'm enjoying my writing journey. I revised and submitted a new short story this week. I noticed that I have about five different stories out to various pro markets. I do think my short stories are better than they used to be.
I've gotten some agent rejections for novels this week, but I did get one partial request. I totally revamped/revised a novel I just started and sent the first three chapters out to one of my critique groups. (Sorry, guys!) I realized another novel I'm working on is at 70,000 words and I better quit meandering around and get to the finish line. I backtracked six chapters and revised; I think it's headed in a much better direction.
I got a lot of my editor work done this week. I got my blog posts done this week. I submitted a bunch of proposals for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (RMFW) annual conference next summer. And I got ready for my critique group meeting tonight.
Good luck with your journey!