Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Hooking And Shocking

Books need a hook, something to get readers reading the story all the way through.  The question is...how?

Picking a hook at the beginning of a story is hard because readers aren't yet emotionally invested with the story or the characters(assuming it's a stand alone story and not part of a series...a successful series doesn't need as strong of a hook).  That makes it hard to start with a death or a battle.  It also means you can't drop someone into the middle of a story they don't care about.  I'm not saying I have an answer, for each story is unique, but it's a consideration.

It's similar with shocks.  Twists and turns help make a story compelling as long as it enhances the story and doesn't become the story.  So how do you spin a twist that creates the right effect instead of making readers put your story down in disgust?  It needs to fit and be shocking enough without being so far outside the realm of the story, or negating their happiness, that it makes folks want to read more.  Each story requires its own twist, but you can't use the shock too often or it'll become cliche(look at M Night Shyamayan  for proof of how easy it is to go from promising new director to running joke).

These are the tools we have to consider in our work.  Hook and shock - a powerful combination.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Silly Or Serious?

My blog has alternated somewhat between silly posts and serious posts.  I've talked about the creeping erasure of history, and I've talked about the new header to my blog.  Basically, anything that struck my fancy has gotten on here.

But should I find one way and try to stick with it?  I've been wondering about the fastidiousness of readers and whether or not they prefer me to be serious or silly...or do they like the mix?  Some topics attract certain folks, and some turn off others.  I wonder whether or not my audience grows or shrinks based on what I decide to talk about.

I use this blog as a form of catharsis, so I've varied in what I've chosen to discuss, but I'm curious if I should choose to stay on one track or the other.  I'd be interested to know what you think.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

More Time To Blog And Write

I'm almost caught up on my blogging, but I need another week to get through September posting.  Then, maybe I can get back to writing and editing.  I still have the goal of having Schism out by April 20, 2020, but at this rate, it'll be tough.  Most of the editing is done, but I can't seem to get off my ass and finish the last two acts.  I had to split Act IV into two so it made more sense, but I'm stuck on the last 10,000 words of Act IV.  Then it'll be on to Act V.  Maybe when I move to Tennessee, and have nothing to do but write, I can finish so this thing can take advantage of our polarized climate to take off.  I need to get going.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Re-reading Old Favorites

I'm weird.  Yeah, I know that's not exactly a revelation, but I wonder if others share some of my quirks.  For example, I go back and re-read my favorite books several times.  I know people often re-read what they like, but I go back and back and back.  For example, I just finished reading World War Z...for the eighth time.  And this is far from the only book I've done this with.  I'll bet I've read each Harry Potter book over a dozen times each, Guns of the South nearly 20, and Ready Player One approaching half a dozen.  In fact, I have a tendency to go back and re-read something I've really enjoyed more than I am to pick up something new.  Why is that?

I think it's because they're comfortable.  I know and love the characters, and I know I already like the story.  I also enjoy finding nuggets I missed the first time or five, so it's like something (slightly) new each time.  Am I the weird one, or are there any other weirdos out there who do something similar?  Remember, this isn't a movie that only takes up two and a half hours of your life - a book is a major commitment of time.  Is that reassuring or disturbing?

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Defaulting On Style

When you write, what fonts and sizes of text do you use?  I prefer to write in Arial 10, but that then becomes what I end up trying top publish in.  It may sound...petty, but I wonder at this sometimes.  I wonder because most folks tend to use Calibri or Times New Roman.  I also see most folks seem to use text size 12.  Whether that's because it's easier to read or what, I don't know.  So I was just wondering what fonts and sizes you use when writing, and whether you publish in that or change it prior.  If you change, how do you deal with the changes within the manuscript that crop up?

Okay, so that was a silly post, but after the past week or so of heavier stuff, wasn't it necessary?

Thursday, September 5, 2019


How breathless and in-your-face do you like a story to be?  I like to be kind of a passive third person observer who is being told the tale by someone who sounds like Morgan Freeman.  However, some folks prefer BREATHLESS stories where the author GETS IN YOUR FACE!  Brian Lumley and Dean Koontz fall into these categories for me, and I have difficulty reading them as a result.

Basically, such books are exhausting.  My feeling is that I'm expected to be on edge all the time.  My personality just isn't suited for that.  I feel like the constant musical score of the book is "DUM DUM DUM!!!"  I feel the urge to push back, and it never sits well with me.

At the same time, I understand how some people don't like the relaxed way of telling stories sometimes because they don't feel the drama, at least not as up front.  I like to infer the drama and get it occasionally, but some folks want to get it all the time.  How do you react to such a style?  Does it draw you in or push you away?

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

High Fantasy Or Grounded In Reality

I've been wondering recently about the tales we like to read - should they be grandiose and breathless, or should they be more down to Earth and realistic?  It's no secret that I like a certain level of consistency in my stories.  They can be in the most fantastical world, but they need to have a level of consistency and believability within the universe in which they're set.  So maybe I'm splitting the difference a bit.

Maybe this is why some stories are too much for me.  I'm grounded on Earth and present times, so going to a different world where they've never even heard of Earth is a stretch for me.  Don't get me wrong - there are some great stories by some terrific authors out there, but it's hard for me to get into them.  I'm the kind of guy who likes to picture myself in these stories, so I can't just get into what I can't comprehend.

But what do you think?  What kind of stories are in your wheelhouse?  Should our worlds be so far out there that they're true escapes from this one?  Or should they be just enough to take us from the daily grind without being so out there that our mind can't accept them?  It always fascinates me to find out where everyone else lands on this.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Do We Need More Writers?

Listening to a podcast recently, I heard the guest tell us that the world needed more writers.  We needed folks who could put on paper their story and the story of humanity.  This got me thinking - is that really true?  Do  we really need more writers?

The answer I inescapably came to was no.

We need more good writers, but simply getting more people to write doesn't do anything.  I've often said that lots of people think they can write, while most actually can't write their name in the snow.  Just telling people to write more so they can contribute to collective humanity is like saying we need more cooks so we can put food in landfills.

Now I know what you're saying - don't most people start off as poor writers before becoming good?  Weren't you a pretty bad writer by your own admission at one time?  Yes, that's all true, but I made an effort to get better.  I still make that effort, for I know I can get better.  Unfortunately, most folks won't make that commitment.  If we had a bevy of folks who knew they sucked at writing and were making efforts to get better, I'd be all for it.  But most people think they're already pretty awesome and don't need to get any better.  There's little humility, and that makes for some absolutely awful writing.  We have plenty of that; we don't need more.

Okay, I get it - I'm an elitist, I want to stifle creativity, yadda, yadda, yadda.  If that makes me a bad person, then so be it.  However, I don't like trying to wade through mounds of shit to find that one gleaming nugget I might enjoy.  There are already tons of terrible writers who are published.  There are lots of people who can write well in one genre but are bad in another(yet they try anyway).  Do we really need to add to that pile of garbage?

Finally, if you're discouraged by what I've written, then writing isn't for you.  Take the time and effort to get better.  If that's you, then maybe you'll one day be a good writer and will be someone who should be adding to our collection of the written word.  If you think you need no more help and are already the bees knees, then please stop.  For the love of all that's holy, please please please stop.  Writing in and of itself does not make you a great thinker or expresser of ideas, and we don't need you piling onto the (large) portion of crap we already have.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Erasing History

I may as well have titled this one "Stepping Into Controversy."

As most of you know, I have some problems with the current Woke-Scold movement in both our industry and in the world at large.  We are so afraid of offending any sensibility that we applaud the super-sensitive and walk on eggshells, lest the mob turn against us for some perceived slight we didn't even intend.  Those who scour both modern books and the annals of history looking for those without the proper mindset seem determined that all wrong-think will be expunged.

The most recent example of this, and more of why I hold disdain for the current traditional publishing industry, is the excommunication of John W. Campbell from society.  Now, Campbell has been dead for nearly 50 years, and he was hardly what one would think of as an enlightened thinker.  He stated some rather out there - and by today's standards, noxious - views on race and science.  Although some may wonder just how much was genuine(writer Joe Green said that Campbell would often take a devil's advocate position simply to make things livelier), a good bit of what he said would make most folks cringe.

But that's not good enough for the Woke-Scolds.  Nope, they want to erase him from history, remove his name from the award, and hope all is merry again.  This is Stalin-esque, and it should make the stomach turn of any fan of writing.  Although I'm certain that some of the Woke-Scolds that read this will claim I'm defending Campbell's views(they'll do that because they're perpetually mad and don't want to engage on the substance of an issue), what I'm taking issue with is removing from history one of the most influential writers in science fiction.

Analog just removed Campbell's name from its aware for Best New Writer.  Some great folks have gotten this award, from George RR Martin to Carl Sagan, and Campbell's name is on it because the magazine that gives it out, Analog(originally called Astounding Science Fiction), was founded by him.  While one can take issue with some of what Campbell said, there's no doubt about his influence on the Golden Age of Science Fiction.  Who knows where we'd be without both his science fiction writing and his promotion of it.  By pretending he doesn't exist and trying to remove him from the award his magazine pioneered, they are engaging in the same kind of censorship most writers claim they abhor.  The funniest part is that they even quoted George Satayana in justifying it("Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it") without realizing that the quote was a warning, not the opening sentence of an Orwellian instruction manual.  By doing this, they are not only trying hard to forget the past, but they are almost guaranteeing that folks will repeat it.

The Woke-Scolds have invaded the writing and publishing industry.  One cannot get into the field, or stay there, if one does not hold the right views.  It's a sickness, and I'd venture to say that only a small minority actually believe in this PC crap, while the rest are scared to death of running afoul of it, so they'll mouth the right words to stay employed.  Moreover, those who genuinely believe, don't even understand the language they use to condemn it.  Jeanette Ng called Campbell a fascist in her recent acceptance speech for the award, showing she has no clue what the word even means.  Fascist has become a catch-all for what the Woke-Scolds deem as immoral thinking rather than any form of political view of way to run a government.  Those ways are repugnant, of course, but not everyone who takes a different position is a fascist.  Further, it does a great disservice to the millions of dead who died fighting actual fascism to use the word as some kind of "everyone I don't like" term.

And it's not like Ng had the courage to refuse the award.  No, she still wants the accolades.  She just wants to rail against her perception from modern perspectives about someone long dead.  Using this as a yardstick, no one from any past era will ever pass muster.  For that matter, those of today won't pass muster years from now, for who knows what future slights will be used to erase today's people from history.
(BTW, I found it particularly ironic that she went on a tirade against racism without any self-awareness on her part,  saying, "Through his editorial control of [the magazine] Astounding Science Fiction, [Campbell] is responsible for setting a tone of science fiction that still haunts the genre to this day. Sterile. Male. White. Exalting in the ambitions of imperialists and colonisers, settlers and industrialists."  Quite the broad level of generalizations there in casting such shade...I thought that showing such disdain about a group of people based on race was verboten)

Believe it or not, I actually did debate whether or not to write about this.  It's dangerous in today's world to evoke the ire of the online mob, but it's time folks stood up to these people who would erase everything but their view of the world in an attempt to purify the world for the rest of us.  When we let such Woke-Scolds go unchallenged, we cede them the stage by default, acknowledging that they own the narrative and that the rest of us should shut up and maybe occasionally nod along about how smart they are.  Sorry, but I was born too argumentative to do that.

Like I said earlier, I'm sure many will take this as some kind of perverse endorsement of Campbell's execrable writings of the time.  I can't stop people from being stupid on that.  I'm just pointing out that erasing folks from history who don't meet your standards will leave you very few remaining.  We don't live in a pure world, and our history is especially vomitous at times.  That doesn't justify removing it because it makes you feel icky.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Book Store Crap

At an airport recently, I had some time to kill.  So, naturally, I went into the largest bookseller I could find in the terminal and started browsing.  What I came across left me feeling...underwhelmed.

For starters, a large number of the fiction works were this "woke" crap that tries to make some social justice statement and does nearly everything but tell a good story.  Characters should move the plot along; they shouldn't be the plot.  If they are, then your story is secondary to anything you're trying to say.  More than that, most folks read books to escape rather than be preached at.

Then there were novels covering mundane stories that I really don't care about.  Okay, maybe I'm a barbarian who doesn't know good literature, but I don't need slice-of-life tales - I want something to whisk me away to a place I can't find in the real world.  Yes, it should be realistic within the story, but I can find folks having affairs and crying about their children going off to college by going outside; I can't find a 20,000 year old spacecraft buried in the Amazon forest that may have sparked life on our planet.

These bookstores will only carry traditionally published work, and their stock validated most of what I've said about the traditional publishing world.  There was no risk, and there was nothing to make me think.  Further, most of it seemed to be garbage that a nine year old could poop out during daily writing time in school.  Needless to say, I walked away without buying a book.

It really is frustrating to see this kind of...I can't find another word to adequately describe it...shit being passed off as good books.  In addition to the byzantine maze of idiocy folks have to pass through to publish traditionally, this kind of puke-inducing nonsense is another reason why traditional book stores are dying.  Yes, that may be harsh, but it doesn't make it less true.