… and it is hard.

Holly Black:

… we […] often look for what is wrong with a piece of fiction. Now, that’s certainly useful. It’s important to know when something’s confusing or dull or structurally unsound. But what I find that I need more and more–and need to learn how to do–is a critique that pushes fiction to that next level, that wow level. Like Cecil’s admonishment to “look for your inner rage and inner perv,” critiquing a competent story is all about seeing its cracktastic potential and about having standards that are higher than good. And it’s about finding the great parts of a story and pushing the rest of the it toward those parts. It is a whole mental shift for me in terms of thinking about fiction and it is hard.

Watch this girl. Better yet, read her. Get Tithe. Start there.

(Not so) Stupid Plot Tricks

The (genius) Teresa Nielsen Hayden presents Stupid Plot Tricks.
Best. Tool. Evah.
Here’s what I got on my first run though it:

Main Evil Guy: If I decide to hold a contest of skill open to the general public, contestants will be required to remove their hooded cloaks and shave their beards before entering.
Main Good Guy: If one of the Bad Guys manages to kill my Mentor, I’m clearly not prepared to immediately avenge him; I will retreat and develop my skills.
Aux Bad Guy: While you’re pulling guard duty, if anyone shows up with a prisoner transfer or maintenance job, and you don’t know about it, arrest them on the spot.
Aux Good Guy (true love of the main hero): If I catch the Hero in a compromising situation with another woman, I will give the Hero the benefit of whatever doubt might reasonably exist.
Further Evil: I will never attend an auction of an Ultimate Weapon. If it’s truly as good as advertised, the auctioneer would already be the Evil Overlord.
Plot Twists to Add — from Murphy’s Laws of Combat:
1. Once you open a can of worms, the only way to recan them is to use a larger can.
2. For every action, there is an equal and opposite criticism.
3. Fortify your front and you’ll get your rear shot up.
4. The most delicate component will be dropped.

Tell me yah couldn’t make a good story out of that.
(via Randy. Thanks!)


An interesting article on Slashdot about Word Processors: One Writer’s Retreat — wherein the author talks about the bells and whistles of emerging technology actually getting in the way of the relatively simple process of writing.

With a new novel to write, the time seemed ripe to switch software. I’d like to say I scoured about for word processors, but I didn’t. In my novel, one character would write computer programs. The story question was, What software would he use? It had to be vi. Vi, a Unix editor for plain text files created in 1976 by Bill Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems. I’d remembered working with a software engineer, who saw no advantage to word processors and dismissed the “prettiness” of desktop publishing. He did everything in vi. Could I write a novel in vi? I decided, Why not?

Vi fast became — and remains, 100,000 words later — my writing implement of choice. Most of all, what I like about vi is something that is, well, aesthetic. I like vi’s keyboard-only operation. Vi doesn’t assault with helpful balloons or racks of toolbar icons. No, vi has a 70s ambience (no mouse, no GUI) that’s refreshingly clean. In that sense, vi is a treasured software servant. It works well without showy presence and respectfully stays out of the way.

Just for the record, I won’t be writing any novels in Vi. That said, I will point out that I’ve never written anything creative in Word for many of the reasons the author cites in the article above: I like my word processing program to be that: a processor of words… that’s it: no helpful capitalization, no auto-correct, and certainly no desktop publishing features poorly implemented and largely unnecessary.
Roughdraft is simple enough for me.

“So it’s about Power?”

The Morning News – TiVo’d

I place my hands around hers, gently moving her fingers to the correct buttons. “Open your mind,” I say. “Here’s what you’re saying with the TiVo, you’re saying: These are the shows I want to watch. I don’t know when, I don’t know in what order, maybe half of one and then half of another, maybe ten seconds here and there, maybe tonight, maybe a year from now, maybe backwards, maybe in slow motion, probably definitely skipping all commercials. This is what you’re saying: Hey, Mr. TV Man, I am taking your output and pummeling it into whatever shape I see fit.”

A really great little science fiction story. Or… is it?

This is how we do it… [sing]

Sol said (in comments): “How do you do it?
Well, Zelazny’s method works very well for some: every time you flip over to the screen where you’re writing, you have to promise yourself that you’ll write at least three more sentences before you leave that screen, basically.
For me, that probably wouldn’t be enough… somewhere in there, something has to kick off and make something more of itself. What I do is commit to getting 500 words out every time I start writing — by the third time I write that day, I’m getting close to the 1800 I want, per day. Here’s a few other bits…
– Never edit: If you want to spellcheck, that’s good, but the next run is for editting — people get hung up trying to make one page perfect (rearranging sentences and scenes) instead of writing more imperfect pages. It will never, ever be perfect, so write like crazy and edit later. One of the best things keeping the word count going is that you have to force yourself to accept what goes down on the paper as your first draft, good or bad, and move on.
– Embrace productivity, not perfection: it doesn’t matter if what you’re getting down is crap, it’s your crap, and by god there’s a story there somewhere. Eventually you’ll find it, but for now just write write write. Nobody writes a perfect book, certainly not the first time. Stephen King writes 60k words a month so that after he does his second draft he’s still got 54k.
– Take lots of showers: Seriously. Something about those water drops hitting your head make ideas come.
– Never write everything: Finish each writing session with something you still haven’t had a chance to write lingering in your head. Let that small bit you haven’t done sit there and fester germinate. By the time you get around to writing that part, it’ll have lots of little word buddies that are waiting for you to write them as well.
– If you don’t know what comes next, move: You’ve got lots of characters (and if you don’t, add some, or make your main character schizo, or something). When you’re stuck on what happens next to character A, move to character B: someone else that you DO have an idea about. Readers will think you’re building suspense and heightening anticipation — they’re dead wrong, but who are you to correct them?
There are lots of people who know more about this than I do — these are just tricks for getting the words out there. Everything after that is gravy, so wallow around in the keyboard and just push. :)
Chris Baty’s suggestion: “Keep those guilt levels high and stay away from that delete key.”