Noncredible vs. Unlikely

>> Thursday, September 30, 2010

In my line of work (day job), a great deal of time is spent separating potential scenarios from "non-credible" scenarios, scenarios that are either considered so far fetch as to be "impossible" or physically impossible. Now I could go on and on about those folks who confuse "non-credible" with unlikely, impossible with implausible. In real life, when you do that, it can become easy to convince yourself a risk, for instant, isn't really a risk. But space history's full of catastrophic and near-catastrophic accidents that were, every one, scenarios no one expected could or would really happen.

But in fiction, it happens, too. People frequently dismiss a notion or a concept or a character: someone's too old or young to do "X", magic or science couldn't do what they call out, human nature, individual or in groups, would never do "Y."

But there's a world of difference between "impossible" and "implausible." When you talk about youthful or elderly expertise, there are plenty of examples in history. In the most sexist or racist societies in the world, there are stories that have come through the ages of superlative women and oppressed peoples who have done what should have been impossible.

For all the stories of people banding together to do evil things, there are groups of people doing good things: smuggling/hiding Jews in Nazi-held land, smuggling slaves away from the south, standing up to oppressor without using violence. Check out the Mother's blog, for instance, for some of the extremes in craziness in our far (and not so far) past, particularly on Friday's when she has her posts on the nefarious history of motherhood. Fascinating stuff.

Science can't do something, you insist? Ha! Who can say what we'll be able to do in 500 years. Do you think they could imagine what we can do today in 1510? Computers with whole libraries on them, communication with the world instantaneously, cure disease as we do, fly in the sky? Just in the past hundred years, look at what's changed. Why are we so sure we can predict what we'll have to work with in 100 years?

If something's happened, it's not non-credible (by definition). If it's not readily disproved, not demonstrably impossible, I don't think we can say it is impossible or will be in the future, or even in the past. Rare events are even better than the mundane (at least it makes it more interesting for me).

So write, tweak, play, dabble, and take what-if as far as you want.

But, remember, it's not enough to just dream . . . you have to sell that dream to a reader as well. And that takes more than coming up with a "cool" concept. More on that next time.


The Dark Side

>> Sunday, September 19, 2010

There's a great deal of talk going on this week (which is ironically Banned Book Week) about someone calling for a ban of the book Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Speak is a YA book about a teenager who is raped and feels unable to speak of it. Someone wants it banned from school libraries (on the basis of it being "soft pornography"). Blech! Anyone who's read my blog for some time knows how I feel on this subject or should. Not that the subject isn't offensive - it is - but it's offensive because it happens, because society has not yet managed to protect people from this kind of crime. And because society actually furthers it by encouraging silence. I personally think it says a great deal about the perversion of anyone who confuses a rape scene with sexual titillation (as I have mentioned about certain "romance" novels before). Obviously, I think banning this book is the last thing a school should do (especially in the name of Christianity - isn't that how the Catholic Priests who abused children got away with it for so damn long?)

But that's not what I'm here to write about (though there are some great blog posts out there talking about it, including this one by Janet Reid. Do a search if you're interested).

What I'm here to talk about is writing about the dark side. My husband hates it when I do something horrible to one of my characters, rape them, imprison them, have them lose someone close. He hates those scenes and still doesn't really understand why they are in so many of my novels.

But I have a reason. Part of it is because bad things happen. Part of it is because fantasy and science fiction allow for societal commentary - taking an existing condition (either from now or the past) and highlighting it (fearmongering, bigotry, sexism, child abuse, apathy, etc). The side effect of that is that the results, the impacts, have to be clear, to hit home. Taking a sympathetic character through the effects of an issue is a great way to illustrate the ills. But, more than that, having a good character survive and overcome those issues, those horrible events, sends a message, a message of hope to people who might have suffered something similar.

I don't think people readily identify with people who have no problems. I also don't think problems get solved if you pretend they don't exist or describe them euphemistically.

And it does make for more interesting characters. Which, in my opinion, is what I aim for.


Writing Gruntwork

>> Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I love to write. When I get to where things are really happening, stuff just flows effortlessly. Setting up those scenes, however, can be slooooow.

Given that they take me so much longer than the other parts, it can be disheartening. It seems I'm slowing down the pace terribly (when, in reality, it reads as fast as the other parts). For that reason, it's taken far longer than I expected to get to the climax of my sequel. It's also further back than I expected so it looks like I'll be past 90K words again, since I'm at 88K now and I'm just starting the big "battle".

Oh well, hopefully this climax will move faster than the last one (which went over multiple chapters). And maybe the post climax can be trimmed.

Hey, I'll write it out and trim as necessary in the rework. Right now, it's time to get this puppy finished. Actually, it's more like a kitty - maybe that's why nothing turns out quite like I expected.


Fun with Dialog

>> Thursday, September 9, 2010

Nathan Bransford wrote a very fine post on the elements of good dialog and I encourage everyone to read it. As a dialog aficionado, I can fully endorse all of his main points. In fact, I was quite pleased - I feel I write dialog like that (though, of course, I could be deluded.)

The one place I differ with Mr. Bransford (and many others) is in the use of verbs more descriptive than "said" or other descriptive phrases. I always have. I've been hearing this "rule" for some time, but I just won't do it.

The "no-saidism" camp's position is that people don't read so-and-so said anyway so putting something else in the dialog tag doesn't buy anything. What's more, it can be disruptive if you overdo it. I absolutely agree with the last part of this (and personally suspect that's the real reason why this "rule" was instituted - more about that later).

Yet I am not of this camp. There are a number of reasons for this.

One is that I DO read the saids. I note when the tags use said or use something else, andI have (frequently) become bored or found the dialog go stale because all that's going on is talking. And I should warn the unwary that I'm a very dialog heavy girl.

Another is that I learned to write by studying the authors I liked best. And, as I have discovered about a number of "rules" many consider sacred, those authors tend to use language descriptively to support the actual dialog, much like I try to do myself. Sometimes creative use of "saidisms" not only adds color and drama, but also humor and charm. Georgette Heyer's clever use of "saidisms" provide some of her most memorable and hilarious moments.

In my opinion, dialog needs something besides the words themselves. Oh, I know, the dialog itself should do all the talking except . . . in real life, it doesn't. In real life, body language is a bigger part of communication than the words are (as my non-talking son proves daily). That's why plays aren't performed by actors standing in place on a stage, speaking monotonically. Except, with a book, we have to replace the actors, the movement, the inflection, the nuances with words. If we forgo: shouted/muttered/breathed/demanded/scoffed/snarled/moaned/gasped/hissed/bellowed/mused/chuckled/whispered/shrieked/tittered/etc. you have to express all that another way, probably using far more words. Or you can skip it and all those nuances, those distinctions will be lost.

So, if it's so good, why is there such a movement against it?

Well, because, if done clumsily, it's extremely distracting. Even the best actual dialog can get clunky and bogged down if not belied with descriptors that are nearly right but not quite. Or worse, so dramatic and overblown that they become laughable even when they shouldn't be.

Know you're language, know your nuances, don't get carried away . . . otherwise you might just want to stick with said after all.


Your Patience Was Appreciated

>> Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Wow, I've been out of pocket far too long, folks. Sorry. I'm sorry not only because I haven't been writing my own blog posts, but because I haven't been as assiduous as I should have been about reading and commenting on all of yours. Sorry about that.

But the time I spent was well worth it from my viewpoint. Last week I was doing a great deal of overtime. At the same time, an opportunity to have a pitch for a book critiqued by an editor for a romance publisher turned into an opportunity to send that book to that publishing editor. Since it was still in early draft form, reworking (twice) the book took up most of the time I wasn't working (including some of the time I should have been sleeping). Fortunately (I think), this novel was one of the cleanest drafts of any book I've ever done, so, though I went through it twice, tightening language and clarifying information, the total # words didn't vary by even 50 words, so it stayed pretty tight. I was able to send it off as I'd hoped Friday morning. Since then, a friend who hadn't expected to enjoy it (she told me after the fact), read it and enjoyed it, caught up enough she could only find three errors. She was sorry to see it end. That's what I'm looking for.

So, why didn't I catch up this past weekend? Well because enforced sitting (due to tendonitis/tendinosis of my Achilles tendon) and an urge to make some inroads in the current novel I'm working on pushed me to make an attempt to "finish" it using the three day weekend and an additional vacation day (total four days off). Since I was an estimated 32500 words short of my expected goal, that didn't happen. However, I did manage to work through more than 20K words during that period of time, despite a toddler who sees me with a keyboard in my lap as an invitation to displace it with her own darling person. And maybe take a nap.

I'm really working my ensemble cast in this one (Tentatively titled "Cat's Paw"), with far more plot threads than I've ever done before. What fun! And, hey, a little science is even sneaking in!

So, though some of you might have felt neglected, I hope you will comfort yourselves that my time was well-spent. And, if I didn't get the draft completed, it isn't much longer now. So thanks for your patience.



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