Sunday, November 11, 2018

Song Styles

No posting of my writerly musical musings would be complete without eventually mentioning this gem, which is a pretty accurate depiction of the inside of my brain at times:

Bears Dance To Sweet Dreams

Yes.  Really.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

Confession time:  I'm a comma maximalist.

I adhere to the formal rules of comma use, even those that some publications and editors have begun to abandon.  I'm a fan of the Oxford comma.  When a comma is indicated for clarity or effect, I tend to use it.  On the flip side, I'm very conscious of where commas do *not* belong, and it grinds my gears (and my teeth) when people misuse them.  Prime candidate:  Any sentence that has a comma *after* the word "but."

I understand that language evolves, and I understand that if the punctuation isn't required for clarity, it doesn't strictly *need* to be there, but (there's the proper placement for commas around that word) for me, the comma denotes rhythm, pause and flow, distilling the audible into the visual ... and since I do read visually, not phonetically, I need (or at least like) that reminder.


We also need to talk about my addiction to parentheses, but that's another (much thornier) story ...

Friday, November 02, 2018

Story Sale!

Abyss and Apex just accepted my story "Natural Selection" for publication ... ahem ... sometime in 2020! This is the second story featuring Pazia and Vanchen, directly following the events of Fatecraft. Don't hold your breath too long ...

That makes three of the four stories I've written around these character(s) and their associates out in the wild.  The final one concerns Pazia's hapless brother Mathory and his misadventures, and maybe that should be next on my submissions docket ...

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

A long time ago, I submitted a story to a writing challenge where a character in impossible circumstances (because aren't they all?) cheats on her husband.  A fellow writer / critiquer said they enjoyed the story, but had trouble with that aspect.  I said that I'd had trouble writing it, and the response was ... "So why did you include it?"

Not a bad question.

This aspect in film / fiction has always been a pet peeve of mine; I find it difficult to sympathize with characters in that position.  And that is why I did it.  I challenged myself to take on a perspective I didn't agree with and do it sympathetically.

As a writer, I think this is an important exercise; as a speculative fiction writer, doubly so.  If you write antagonists, chances are they espouse positions that don't align with those of your main characters (and we'll assume that usually, main characters have morals and ideals similar to those of the writer).  Can you make the antagonist convincing without at least trying on his shoes?  Can you write a nonhuman character if you can't write a perspective that isn't your own?

And maybe the answer for some writers is they don't, whether due to interest or because they are trying to convey a specific message.  For me, though, I like squishing around in heads that aren't my own, though I could always do a better job of it.  Maybe it's high time I visit a foreign (mental) land again.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Song Styles

I mentioned recently on Facebook that I've had a number of earworms running through my head, some of them stranger than others ("Living On A Prayer" substituted with the words "Pigeon on a bear," for instance).  One of those is from Kate Nash, whose CD I just purchased.  It's my first experience with Nash.  She's a lot like Lily Allen, with a piping, high-pitched voice, a chipper hand with profanity, and catchy rhythms and melodies, but (in my opinion, at least), her lyrics are quirkier and their path is a lot more meandering.

This is the song that keeps worming its way into my brainpan:


I identify with Mariella, really.  She'd get along with Angie Baby.  They might go on a serial killing spree.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Wednesday Wanderings

Work and life have been hectic - including some good writing news, as the previous post will attest - so I've spent a lot of time vegging out with television, and I've taken advantage of Amazon Prime's collection to binge House.

Now, House is not high theater.  It's formulaic, though the dialogue is often snappy and clever, and the overall series arc is relatively predictable.  However, there are two elements that are particularly well done, and I think there's lessons to be learned for writers.

First, the way the show handles filling in the backgrounds of the characters.  Every actor has to be well versed in rattling off arcane (medical) information, so it would be relatively easy to give them an excuse to infodump their personal history and leave it at that.  Instead, the characters make casual remarks that fill in bits and pieces - Chase has a rich dad; Cameron was married - sometimes approaching the same information from a different direction.  In their behavior, in their speech, in the ways they react, we feel the iceberg under the surface ... so when the story finally comes out, the audience feels they've earned it.

This cycle flows seamlessly through the first seasons with Cameron, Chase and Foreman, and then repeats with the new crop of residents added thereafter.  How the show handles the huge number of new characters is worth a look, too.  There's no possible way for the audience to remember, or even want to remember, such a cast, but for the audience to care about the process of elimination, the characters have to be memorable.  So the show puts shorthand right in House's mouth.  Through the excuse that he can't possibly remember everyone's names, he gives them all descriptive nicknames, drawing attention to their key attributes.  The names we need to know flow naturally in the background until we start to pick them out.

The second element that House handles well is making the medical "mystery" work.  It's the reason for that tight formula:  a major dramatic case; a secondary, minor case - often humorous; and one or two personal storylines.  The latter provide an unrelated dialogue that spark an "aha!" moment for House to solve the primary case.  This particular beat is overused in most mainstream television shows, from medical mysteries to cop shows to courtroom dramas, but I forgive it in House because it provides an important hook for the audience amongst a sea of the incomprehensible.

Because I put "mystery" in quotation marks for a reason.  A true mystery follows the rules of fair play, giving the reader all the clues they need to solve the mystery before the detective (in this case, doctor) does.  In the case of House, this is impossible unless the viewer has a medical degree, and possibly even then.  In fact, the average person has limited ability to follow the cause and effect of the medical aspects of the plot, which means that the elements have to make sense on a deeper level.  We have all internalized the basic shape of plot arc, so we instinctively respond to those beats, even if we don't totally understand the logical connection between B and C.

And the show does an excellent job of this, signaling to us where we are in the story progression with plot symbols.  The audience recognizes when the mystery isn't solved yet, and not just by looking at the clock.  Arguably, this is why House has to be so formulaic, and while Chase, Cameron and Foreman grow and change, the character of House himself has to be static.  Any major alteration to the way House works would jeopardize the plot signposts.

Or I'm simply justifying binge-watching as writing research.  Take your pick.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Family Tree sold to Metaphorosis

Metaphorosis just purchased my tongue in cheek fantasy story, "Family Tree," about an evil overlady - make that Overmother - and her wayward son, for publication around the end of the year.  Keep your eyes peeled!