Posts tagged writing
Posts tagged writing
That they’re about sex.
Unless one is writing pornography simply for pornography’s sake (like some titillating erotic scenes or some lovely PWP slash fanfic), then like every other bit of writing, the scene should only exist to either:
a) further the plot,
b) further understanding of or provide development for a character,
c) or, ideally, all of the above.
If the sex scene is literally only in the book to titillate, then usually it’s a plot-interrupter and frankly, can be skipped. It’s more appreciative to your audience and less boring to just say “they had sex”. (I have literally flipped past sex scenes in books because there’s no reason for them to be there. Like, excuse me, get your sweaty bum out of the way of the story I was reading, thank you.)
Of course, that is to say that the sex scenes can’t be well written and titillating and make you want to go tickle the pope. Like a book that makes you laugh out loud, or sob in public, a well written sex scene should have people who feel sexual attraction squirming in a good way.
Do I think non-erotica books should have sex scenes in them? Well, that depends entirely on the book, the protagonists, the situation, their lives, the culture in which they live, and what putting the sex scene in will do for the plot and people.
And I have all the respect for well written erotica, because it is not easy to make porn the plot and write a damn good novel to support the fun times.
Okay, so here’s a thing. I think I need help with it, which is why I’m reaching out. Because I wanna write a thing. But I wanna write it well and respectfully, and I know that I can’t do that by myself, from the POV and life that I occupy alone. So here’s the thing:
I want to write a novel about a dragon. In my world, dragons have the ability to become people, and to switch back and forth. In my world, dragons are the noble classes. Dragons hoard, you see, and most of them hoard nations, or territory, or clans. In my world, dragons are mostly good people who want to shepherd their subjects and make sure their hoard is happy and healthy. In my world, dragons have compatible DNA with people, so there can be descendants with differing amounts of draconic blood. There are Kings and Queens, but there are still extended families of cousins who are Duchesses, and Earls, and Lords/Ladies.
In my world, dragons differ in coloration and design much the same way humans metabolisms, and cultures, and melatonin-levels differ. Each clan of dragons has evolved for their region and culture, which is why Asian dragons look different than European dragons, which are different from Southern-African dragons, which are different from Northern-Africa dragons, etc. Nordic dragons have fur and Central American dragons have feathers, and some have wings and some look like dinosaurs. Generally, I’m trying to respect that different real-life cultures have different kinds of dragons.
My hero-dragon is a prince. My hero-dragon is not in line for any throne, though he has enough noble blood to be able to take on his draconic form and to be considered royal (and, through the government, is entitled to a taxes-funded stipend). My hero-dragon is non-neuro-typical. I read a story where a Princess had crippling social anxiety and bipolar disorder, which led to all sorts of nastiness in the tabloids when she showed up to obligatory royal public events; she was accused of being drunk, and worse. And I watched “The King’s Speech”. And I thought about how awful it would be if your whole life revolved around being a public figure and you just couldn’t do it. It’s not like it’s a job you can just leave, or telecommute to. So I wanted to explore this idea of a royal figure who literally could not escape his greatest fear and torment, and how, in a dragon, these coping mechanisms and behaviors would manifest.
I am Canadian, and my nation has incredible, amazing, fascinating history. The places and the people in my country deserve to be the focus of fiction, so I try to set my work here as much as I can. That means, I want my hero-dragon to be Canadian. But what is a Canadian dragon? Would he be of European decent?
I decided that no, I didn’t want another bland white guy hero prince. I want an aboriginal protagonist. I want a person of colour to be the royal, the desired one, the fully fleshed out lead male character, to be the book-boyfriend and the smutty fan-creations fodder. I want a person of colour who is desired by the readers, and the fangirls, and the main love interest. I want a strong, intelligent male protagonist who is allowed to be weak, and human, and I don’t want yet another white dude. The world I live in is not all-white. My romantic interests have not been all-white. I try hard to reflect that in my writing and in the worlds I create.
And according to the rules of my world, there were dragons in Canada long before colonization. If my hero is a dragon, and dragons hoard people, and he is Canadian, then I have a fantastic opportunity to also discuss the way colonization has affected the native population of Canada (and still, to this day, affects it). My hero-dragon is a prince, in the European sense, but his family would have been closer to clan chieftans than kings. And in 2014 he is displaced. A dragon, yes, but with no power, no territory, no say, no people. No hoard. Infantilized by the government and the media, a “noble savage” with no power, my hero would still be in the public eye simply because of the blood that runs under his skin. And he lives in fear of the media finding out about his mental health issues, for fear of being branded a “Crazy Indian” and doing even more damage to the representation and agency of his people.
And let me assure you now, the story is not about him being “cured”, and nobody “saves” or “rescues” him. His love interest doesn’t “make him better” or “heal” him, but accepts him as he is, and they build their relationship slowly and in a healthy way, which encompasses an understanding of what it means for his mental health. I plan to treat First Nations concerns and issues realistically; it won’t be magically made better or hand waved away.
So here are my concerns:
• I’m white. I am the most white rural Canadian human being on the planet. I fear that people will think that I am appropriating or exotifying aboriginal culture. That I don’t have the right to tell these stories about these people because I am not one of them and I have not lived my life the way they have. Obviously I want to be respectful and I will do lots of research and talking to people, but … I don’t want to be accidentally disrespectful. I dread messing this up.
• And as with the above, I’m pretty neuro-typical, too. Do I have the right to create characters who are neuro-atypical?
• But Representation Matters. (As someone on a cane, I cannot tell you how happy I was to see Hermann Gotlieb limp his way through saving the world, and how angry it made me to see John Watson get Magically Cured With The Power Of Sherlock’s Love)
• But do I have the right to write that Representation?
• And what if I do try my hardest to be accurate, and respectful? And I still mess it up?
• And I also don’t to look like I’m Tiana-ing my POC character. “Yeah, he’s not white, but he spends half the book as an animal, soooo…” NO. I don’t want to do that. Yes, he’s a dragon, but that’s not why he’s a POC. Most of the other main characters will be POC, too, because that’s the reality of the city in which I live. My skin colour puts me in the minority on the subway, so my written worlds should reflect that - Canada is not just Full Of White People. (And actually, the only white character I’m planning to have is the female protagonist, and mostly because I’m basing her on my friend Kenickie Street. Er. Which I don’t think she knew until she just read that.)
TL;DR - I just want to tell a good story….
p> But I want to tell it respectfully, and well. I just don’t know. I don’t know how to proceed, here.
Yay, you found me! Here is my post on the dreaded “P” word – PROCESS. How, how, how do you write? I get asked this a lot.
Unfortunately, I can’t tell you how you should write. Every person’s process is different, and forms out of years of habit and the situation in which they live and work. What I can tell you is how I write, and that might help you figure out your process.
1) What am I working on?
I have two novels on submission right now (one steampunk YA action/adventure; one high fantasy). I’m also working on a TV series backdoor pilot/ tv film with a co-writer (I’m just doing the dialogue pass now). I just handed in about a hundred short stories to various people, and at some point I’m hoping to get around to starting to draft out a radio drama. I also have a shortish novel out with the beta readers; once it’s back I will be into revisions for that.
Currently, I’m writing a pitch package for a new novel (synopsis, long pitch, short pitch, first three chapters); once that has been through revisions and is off to my agent, will return to a beloved novel project that I had to set aside after an emergency trip to the hospital a few years ago. I’m really excited to be coming home to that one.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I’m told that I write the thinking person’s sci-fi/fantasy. No matter what the story is, I always try to be honest and thorough about the issues inherent in the narrative. I don’t write “issue books”, as in, narratives whose sole focus is an after-school-special broad spectrum ‘issue’; but I don’t shy away from discussing or including realistic issues that people in these situations may encounter. I do try to be realistic in how I portray grief, non-neuroptypical characters, microaggressions and the misogyny that women encounter daily, etc.
And of course, I do my best to try to steer clear of writing white, heterosexual, able-bodid and neurotypical cismen. Not because I hate them, but because the market is already saturated with characters like that. I can do something different, reflect the variation of world around me more accurately. I try to be very respectful when I write from the POV of someone unlike myself – I talk to many people like that, read articles and blogs, etc. Of course, I don’t always get it right. But I do my very best to be as accurate to their lived experiences as possible, and to be respectful of the problematics inherent in writing from a POV which I don’t live.
And of course, I like to do that all with aliens and dragons and magic and vampires. That’s part of the joy of writing SF/F work; you can speak in metaphors and similes or you can use fantasy creatures to speak about current issues, or any combination.
I very much enjoy telling the story from the non-traditional point of view, too. When I think of a story, I try to think of who the protagonist would traditionally be, and then try to figure out a way to tell the story from the POV of someone who isn’t the traditional protagonist of that kind of narrative. Sometimes that doesn’t work for the story, and I can’t be tricksy with it, but generally that’s where I start when I’m trying to determine who is narrating my tale.
3) Why do I write what I do?
Because I was sick of SF/F filled with people who weren’t like me, didn’t deal with the kind of struggles that I deal with daily, didn’t have any concept of what it was like to live in my situation, and my body.
I also began as a fanfiction writer, so a lot of the tropes, sentence structures, imagery, and my desire to engage in elastic-play with narratives comes from that community.
4) How does my writing process work?
Asdfghjkl. Good question!
Normally I begin a story with a thesis phrase or idea. I do a lot of thinking, and a lot of noodling about writing little dialogue scenes or character sketches, until I feel like I’ve hit on something that works. Then I usually try to write the pitch/back-cover copy for the idea. If I can encapsulate it in 200 words, really make it pop in nearly no space, then I know I’ve hit on something worth pursuing.
From there I open my Scrivener, copy all the notes I’ve made into the appropriate sections and … well, just write. I write whatever pops into my head, whatever scenes or arguments, or cool ideas I have. If I get a different or new cool idea, I write that down too. Sometimes I end up writing hundreds of pages of just STUFF. Some of it gets moved to different book projects. Some of it gets shoved into the morgue. (Sometimes I pull things out of the morgue and add it).
As I’m writing all these big chunks of awesome stuff, I slowly develop the characters. I find out who they are through all these scenes, and make notes in my files. Sometimes, if I really need to figure out something about a character (who they are, what they love, what they fear), I’ll do some of the character-building improvisation exercises I learned in acting school.
I’ll wash the dishes and talk aloud to myself as the character. I’ll hold a conversation between a character and myself, forcing them to answer. Sometimes I even record it, so I can use the dialogue later. When I’m driving, I’ll turn off the radio and engage in friendly daily chit-chat with the character. If I write myself into a corner I’ll sit back and ask my characters why they just did or said what they did.
This all sounds a bit kooky, but in engaging with characters in this manner, I find I can hone in on their speech patterns, voices, and traits much better than if I just sat in my desk chair and thought about it. I’m a very physical, verbal, tactile person. If you were to ever meet me, you’d know that I speak in essays, driving always to a thesis. (Some people find it cute; some find it super annoying. I have to work hard to be conscious of my tendency to ramble and lecture during a conversation).
So, once I have a solid grasp of character (and through them, usually a world and culture), ad a big old pile of scenes, then I usually start to do something I call “Laying the Garden Path”. I figure out where the ending has to be, first, and if one of the scenes I’ve written already can be the ending or if I need to write something else. From there I figure out what the climax must be, and then where the story starts.
Sometimes at this point I end up abandoning the project, because I realize that while the moments are cool, there’s no novel here. The writing that I did gets shuffled into the morgue to be used for another project, if the opportunity arises.
Once I have the path of the novel projected, I can start to lay the scenes out like flagstones in the garden. I turn and twist, flip, invert, rearrange, break up, smash together, or straight up reject all the strangely shaped elements of the book, and otherwise determine how they all fit together. Once I’ve finished that, if any more cool scenes/flagstones have occurred or popped out at me, I write those next.
Once the stones are laid, then I generally go back and start straight from the beginning and do all the mortar work – that is, the storytelling that stitches together those pivitol moments. If more flagstones want to be written, I jump ahead and add them, and then just return straight to where I left off with the gravel and mortar.
Once the whole book/path is put together, I usually let it rest for a bit before giving it a full re-read to make sure it all works as one smooth narrative. From there it goes to my beta readers, back to me for edits/revisions, off to my agent, back to me for edits/revisions, and then from my agent to the editors.
And then I start it all over again!
(And to further the analogy, I feel like fanfiction is the flowers that grow up between the paving stones – organic, engaging, and proof that someone’s passion can never harm and only beautify your own creation).
This process has taken me as long as ten years for some books, and as little as three months for others. It all depends on my free time, availability, the amount of research I need to do, and how urgently the book wants to be written.
I tag GABRIELLE HARBOWY and LEAH PETERSEN. Go check out their answers to these questions about process.
Gabrielle Habrowy - Editor, writer, and anthologist. Gabrielle edits and proofreads for publishers including Pyr, Circlet Press, Paizo, and Seven Realms Publishing; she is Managing and Acquisitions Editor at Dragon Moon Press, a Canadian independent publisher of fantasy and science fiction; and is available for hire independently by publishers. She is also a staff proofreader and columnist for Lambda Literary and an Affiliate member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She’s worked with first-time authors and aspiring authors, as well as New York Times Bestsellers and Hugo Award winners.
Leah Petersen – Leah Petersen lives in North Carolina. She does the day-job, wife, and mother thing, much like everyone else. She prides herself on being able to hold a book with her feet so she can knit while reading. She’s still working on knitting while writing. She is the author of the Physics of Falling YA SF series.
And please check out the REST of the blog-tour and enjoy the Choose-Your-Own Adventure of finding everyone who was tagged. I was tagged by Ruthanne Reid!
I SOLD A STORY!
I am very pleased to announce that my short story “The Moral of the Story” will be published in Tesseracts 18: Wrestling With Gods — Faith in Science Fiction & Fantasy. It will be released FALL 2014.
About the Tesseracts Anthology series:
(From the website)
The first Tesseracts anthology was edited by Judith Merril. Since its publication in 1985, 299 authors/editors/translators and guests have contributed 502 pieces of Canadian speculative fiction, fantasy and horror for this series. Some of Canada’s best known speculative fiction writers have been published within the pages of these volumes - including Margaret Atwood, William Gibson, Robert J. Sawyer, and Spider Robinson (to name a few). Tesseracts Eighteen is the forthcoming volume in the series. The entire series includes Tesseracts One through Seventeen, plus Tesseracts Q, which features translations of works by some of Canada’s top francophone writers of science fiction and fantasy.
About Tesseracts 18: Wrestling With Gods
Jacob wrestled with an angel in the night, earning him the name “Israel”, which means “struggles with god.” Buddha wrestled, and the hero of the Mahabarata wrestled too. Wrestling is a part of faith. Having a faith can help immensely with struggles in our lives, but we also must struggle against the rules, the boundaries, and the very doctrine at times. We all wrestle with our cultures and our gods, whether we believe in them or not. Faith is not passive. Human progress has relied on brave souls willing to challenge convention through their beliefs. And faith is not separate from Fantasy and Science Fiction. Fantastic elements are integral to all major faiths–they have their gods, fantastic creatures, miracles, blessings, power and magic. We continue that journey into space, possibly encountering worlds with their faiths. Since our cultures all began with fantasy and struggling with faith, Tesseracts 18 will continue the Science Fiction and Fantasy tradition of wrestling with Faith, without declaring all-out war.
This anthology will include as diverse a representation of both real-world religions and faiths of fictional cultures as possible. Stories should not be looking to pass historical or cultural judgment, instead they should feature character-driven plots that include faith, doubt, miracles, spiritual journeys, and diversity of opinion within a faith. Please avoid blanket stereotypes of faith-based cultures. We’d love to see faith surprise us, and surprise science fiction and fantasy readers.
Preview of my story, The Moral Of The Story
Her fingers brush the soft skin, the small smooth of bone under thin flesh behind my left ear, brushing back through wiry hair to where I’ve got it pulled back in preparation for hard work. Lake water, brackish here where it mingles with the St. Lawrence, slides down the side of my neck, summoning goose pimples in its wake. The slick, cool brush of membrane kisses the lobe of my ear and I feel my eyes slide closed, involuntary, as natural as the slight gasp that parts my lips, inflates my lungs, brushes the taste of water and breeze and sunlight across my tongue.
"You came," the woman in the water says. Her voice is sibilant and filled with nearly inaudible clicks and hard-palate burrs, an accent never before heard in the lower plains of Quebec.
Never heard before the Melt caused all the water levels to rise. Never heard before the Great Dark came and killed all the technology. Never before the Daniel-Johnson dam stopped working, the regulating of the Manicouagan became too much and the river broke through its cement prison. Never before Baie-Comeau was overborne and drowned.
Possibly, perhaps - and maybe I flatter myself a little - never before in the whole of human history. But then, how could we have stories of things like her, if I’m the first to converse with one?
Arrogance is a sin. It’s one of the sins brought the Great Dark.
"I came," I say, opening my eyes. Sunlight on water dazzles like diamonds. I squint. It’s a comfortable gesture. The lines beside my eyes folding into place is familiar, nearly soothing. "How could I stay away?"
"But did you come for me?" she teases, dipping her chin into the water in a gesture I’ve learned is meant to be coy, flirtatious. Dark hair slips and pools along the surface, shifting and curling like squid ink.
I sit back in the boat, take up my nets, and fling them over the side that she doesn’t occupy. She whistles and clicks, face in the water, summoning fish. This is our deal. She fills my nets, I fill her mind, and we neither of us attempts to harm the other. Actively.
I had more hungry mouths to feed than fear of rumours, and that is what initially drove me out onto the unnatural lake. The stories said that there was something in the water that feeds on manflesh. But I am no man, and we needed the fish.
For the first few weeks, it was subtle. An elongated shadow too far down to see clearly, too solid to be a school, but too large to be any breed of fish I had ever caught before. Sometimes, it was a splash on the surface of the otherwise calm lake. Once, my little rowboat lurched under my feet, against current, violent, wrong.
I was being hunted, I realized. Even as I harvested fish, something else sought to harvest me. The rumours were not just stories.
I stayed away for three days. On the fourth my youngest brother patted his stomach morosely and cried, unable to understand why he hungered so. Defeated by his tiny misery, I fetched my father’s harpoon from the hunting shed, and made the short walk back to the rocky shoreline.
My little boat was tied up where I had left it, undisturbed. But, no, see — there were four long scratches in the wood of the stern, naked against the dark stain of tar sealant, brackish water, and age. I bent down, breath caught in the hollow of my throat, and splayed my palm against the slashes. They were finger-width apart from each other, come from a humanish hand.
There was a Creature in the lake. And it was mad at me.
Mad because I dared to fish? Or mad because I did not come back?
I nearly turned away then, abandoned the boat, and the lake, and went to find another way to contribute to the supper table. I am old enough to go to the steam-driven factories, now, but then who would care for the littles?
I could spare a few hours each day to go onto the lake, but I cannot leave them for eight or more hours each day to work, and then shop. My parents would be furious. And I cannot hunt, I have no skill with a bow and arrow, we have no gun and ammunition is too expensive, and the Mayor Creature has not given us express permission. That is courting disaster.
No choice. I had to go back onto the lake.
I hesitated, but I could still hear the little ones’ frustrated wails ringing in my ears. So I gathered up and solidified my courage. Die of hunger, or die on the water.
Those were my only choices.
Image Source: A model floating in the water at Weeki Wachee Spring, Florida. The image by fashion photographer Toni Frissell was published in Harper’s Bazaar in December 1947
I may be in the minority here, but I am a big Tolkien fan, they are likely my favorite books ever, and Jackson earned a lot of goodwill from me by making the LOTR movies, which I felt were pretty close to perfect, and wildly inspiring.
But I admit, I was very skeptical about the changes to the Hobbit. Every new piece of info just seemed odder and odder to me. I was concerned they were ruining a classic.
But I was completely charmed by the first movie and loved the second just as much. I was more bothered by the constant call-backs to LOTR than new and expanded characters, to be honest. I was more fine with Tauriel than Legolas having SUCH a large roll.
Looking at the novel, I think people may forget how SPARSE it is. The dwarves are barely given any personalities at all, Bilbo is tricked into going, there’s barely a female character in the entire thing…I am just not sure a strict adaptation would have worked. As much as I love it, the book will always be there, there are wonderful audio adaptations, as well.
So they made some big changes and choices and I would say most of them paid off handsomely. Some didn’t, but the spectacle of Smaug really makes the little things seem insignificant in comparison. When I read the book as a little girl, I thought that we were never going to see a film version to match what I imagined. They did that and more.
I am not aware of what ‘sexist fanboys’ are saying about Tauriel, but I liked her story and character, and hopefully her arc pays off in the final film.
And, if I may butt in a bit…
Well, I haven’t seen TH: DoS yet, but there are two things that sprang to my mind when I heard about all the additions and fleshing-outs that Jackson, Boyens and Walsh were doing.
a) The screenwriters of LotR were aligning the events chronologically in The Hobbit like they did in The Lord of the Rings. In the LotR novels, events aren’t presented chronologically for the whole of the narrative, but broken into chunks that follow certain groups during certain sections of the narrative. To make the films of LotR successful, they had to break apart the chunks and realign the timeline and cut between all the different plots to form a coherent film-friendly narrative. (I don’t have a citation for this, but I remember there being a segment about having to do this in the extras included in the LotR Extended Edition Box Set).
So, I don’t feel like the writing team was padding The Hobbit - they were doing the same thing as they did on LotR by showing what else was happening in Middle Earth at the same time as the events of The Hobbit, drawing these episodes from unpublished stories and The Simirillion, and even a bit from LotR itself.
(Though, I’ll admit some judiciouseditingmight not have been amiss. I think the first film was a wee bit self indulgent in terms of length and which episodes of the adventure should have as much screen time as they did.)
b) Tolkien made up the tales of Middle Earth because he felt that England was lacking the sort of culturally important mythic narratives that had shaped other countries and cultures. He mourned for the loss of the stories that the numerous invasions, takeovers, and genocides that littered the history of the British Isles had robbed from his people. (Again, I don’t have a specific citation for this, but I recall hearing this on several different documentaries and read it in articles and interviews. If someone has a specific citation, I’d love to see it, please.)
The Tolkien estate, and it seems J.R.R. himself, do not condone unauthorized sequels and the like, but I feel that the writing team behind this authorized filmic adaptation were staying true to the spirit of Tolkien’s creating stories where there was a void by adding Tauriel.
As Gail points out above, there’s barely any female voices in the entirety of Tolkien’s work, and save for those who are passive, willowy, or make a quick, rare appearance. I applaud what Jackson, Boyens and Walsh did with Eowyn and Arwen, because how is it any different from what Tolkien did to the myths he based LotR on?
On top of all that, LotR is famously also partially Tolkien’s response to Shakespeare. He invented Ents because he was annoyed that the woods didn’t actually walk in MacBeth, and Eowyn because he felt Lady MacBeth could have been a more agressive character who has agency over her own plans in the end. What else is that but Fix-It Fan Fic?
So how can Jackson, Boyens and Walsh have the right to do any less than Fix It themselves?
I think it’s awesome.
Last night was quite gratified to be included in the Brockton Writers Series reading at Full of Beans. There were four authors as we all read for about ten minutes (I read from my new anthology HERO Is a Four Letter Word. Natch)After the reading, there was an open Q&A, and some private discussion, and something that came up more than once is if I, as a published author, thought that taking a writing course was a good idea.
How’s that for a can of worms? The thing is, there’s no wrong or right way to answer this question. I, personally, don’t know the asker’s skill level, nor read their work, nor do I know what they’ve already taken or not.
There’s simply no blanket answer for a question like “Should I Take A Writing Course?”
Well, did I take a writing course? I did take some. I took a short story writing, and a playwriting course while in school. My undergrad major was Dramatic Literature, so there was a lot of script writing and analyzing in those classes. I also did a self-directed screenwriting course, and had a TA oversee the creation of a play from concept to public workshop reading to performance.
On top of all that, I was writing scads of fanfic, and engaging in the community there to learn more about storytelling, editing, beta reading, and characterization. I also worked with a writer’s group when I lived in Japan, and I try to be engaged with NaNoWriMo when I can.
So what are some Pros of taking writing courses?
· Skills and Drills: Each week your teacher/seminar leader/ will probably ask you to read and write something. Just like drilling and learning new skills in a sport, doing so in writing will teach you how you prefer to engage in the physical and creative act of writing. You will learn what kind of spaces you prefer to write in, what kind of time frame you need to carve out, how quickly you can produce something if you hate the story and if you love it, how you need to approach edits for yourself, and of course, you’ll be practicing your punctuation and grammar skills with each piece.
· Practice: They say that you have to write 10 000 crappy words before you can write any good ones. It may not be an exact science, but I firmly believe that the more you produce, the more you understand how you, personally, prefer to tell stories, and that makes each subsequent work easier to create, to bring into reality.
· Networking: Creative Lit teachers are usually agents, writers, or publishers. It can’t hurt to know them, learn about their worlds, and get their advice or mentorship. And your classmates might one day be the very people who help guide your career.
· Learn from others: Every person reads stories and tells stories differently. It’s amazing what you can find in a tale, or produce in your own when you really engage with people of differing genders, sexualities, cultures, ethnicities, nationalities, languages, and hobbies than you. And if they recommend a book or author, it could possibly lead you down the trail to a wonderful world of books you might have otherwise ignored or never even known about.
· Learn new skills: In working with your classmates, you might learn something you never knew before: a different storytelling technique, a structural idea, a different way to build characters or plot. And of course, if it’s a course for beginners, you ought to also be learning the foundations of punctuation, grammar, and manuscript formatting.
· Produce some back catalogue: Maybe none of the work you create while in class will ever be published, but you’ll probably have a stack of writing that you can submit to agents, publishers, anthologies, or collections, if it’s quite polished and ready.
· Gain confidence: There is honestly nothing more thrilling than a classmate’s response to your writing. A great note, a scrawled smiley face or a checkmark, a gasp, a small sob, a shout or a yelp, a “No, you can’t end there! Then what?!” These are all gold, and they’ll help you feel confident about yourself and your work.
· Learn about grants, contests, groups: Or maybe form your own writing group out of your peers.
· Can workshop submission packages: You can learn to write and hone a query letter, log lines, synopsizes, and pitches.
· Honesty: Hey, this is a group of strangers. If your work is crap, they’ll tell you so. Hopefully in an encouraging, constructive way, but they’ll still say so. You’ll get a lot of practice with editing, taking constructive criticism, parsing a note to see what the real problem is, working with restructuring and overhauls, and maybe even dealing with haters and trolls.
Of course, there are also cons to taking writing courses:
· General skill level of those around you may be lower than yours: You may be above the basics, or you may find their storytelling ability less advanced.
· Can’t tell straight off if your prof will be a good teacher. Not all professors have taken teacher’s school, or are natural pedagogues. It can sometimes be infuriating if they’re a crappy teacher, or just a self-important windbag. Worse, it’s a waste of your time and money.
· Might kill your passion for writing: Either by boring exercises, mean teachers and classmates, or just oversaturation and too much focus on the writing.
· Storytelling is not entirely a skill that can be taught. It’s something that you have to find within yourself and hone, and develop. You can’t just go into a class and expect to come out a master storyteller in six months. It’s something that never stops evolving, a skill you never stop honing and exploring and learning. (I’ve been writing for 20 years and I don’t think I’m a master storyteller yet. I don’t think anyone thinks they are).
· Imagination is not entirely a skill that can be taught. You need to learn how to play, to twist, to envision and debate with yourself.
So, in the end, I think taking some courses can be great to help you get a good foundation and a set of tools to teach you how to be a good, solid, technically proficient writer. But I don’t think any piece of paper or GPA will be able to teach you how to be a good storyteller. That is something that only practice and sharing your stories with others (both to critique and to praise) will teach you.
Do I think that you should do an entire degree in creative writing? Well… no.
I’m sure I’ll be lynched for this, but I’m not certain what merit there is in doing just creative writing for four years. You need to learn other things, experience and live other things. Writers are not just writers. Writers are biologists, like Julie Czerneda, and scientists like Erin Bow. They are mothers and fathers, uncles and aunts, engineers and painters, playwrights and actors, dancers and secretaries, personal assistants and fast food cashiers, janitors and archeologists, activists and bakers.
But maybe that’s just my fear talking. I feared taking a full degree in creative writing because I feared coming out the other side hating it. I feared it would stop being fun and start becoming a chore, like all my other homework. I’ve known plenty of phenominal artists who chose not to get MFAs for the very same reason. But then there are also lots of phenominal artists and writers who did do a full degree, came out loving it and producing amazing work so…
Really, it’s your choice. You know your own opinions and habits better than I do.
So, here’s some actual advice about Writing Courses:
I think they are important. I think they need to be taught and they need to be taken to ensure that you, as a writer, as fully educated in the technical, professional, and skills-oriented foundation of being a storyteller that you can be.
I think the best way to do it is to take courses in the sorts of writing you don’t do normally. Take a class on play or screenwriting if you’re a novelist. Take a class in novels if you normally write poetry or shorts. Take a class in poetry or comics if you write for the screen. The cross pollination of your skill set will teach you many and various ways to tell stories, and perhaps help strengthen your primary story telling set.
Part of the reason The Hunger Games is such a well-received series is the pacing. You start reading the books and you just. Can’t. Stop. Suzanne Collins was a screenwriter as well as a novelist, so you can bet she knew bunches about the three act structure, dialogue, action and narrative pacing, setting up scenes, and things like Chekhov’s Gun. These are all skills that you drill and hone in a screenwriting class. And they are skills that are transferable to novels, poems, short stories, and plays. And fanfiction.
And if you can’t afford a writing course, there are many many books and online tutorials, writing groups (in person or online), communities like NaNoWriMo and AO3, and other resources that are available to you where you can get the same experience and education as you would in your writing course.
I hope this has been helpful!
I feel like I need to talk about this.
I’m probably going to get a hundred million anonymous hate notes, and some people jumping down my throat, but no pain, no gain, eh? But I feel like I need to try to express this, and I hope I manage to do so clearly.
So here it goes.
I am both a professional creator (novelist and screenwriter, though only with publications in the former), and a fan creator. Before I began to write original fiction, I wrote fanfiction as Losyark/Vega on ff.n and Livejournal. Before I was signing autographs and giving readings at conventions, I was attending them in cosplay.
So, I know about passion. I know about a desperate dedication to a world, a show, a character, a ship. I know about literally dreaming about the stories you want to write. I know about the fun of playing at being a character in a show and goofing around with your friends and a camera. I know about RPGing.
I still read fanfic. I still cosplay when I’m not being all ‘respectable and professional’ at a con (and I always dress up for the Saturday night dance). I still squee (usually deep, deep inside) when I get to chat with fellow guests in the greenroom and have dinner with actors, artists, writers and creators I respect and admire.
I have entered, won, and judged both fanfiction and professional novel awards.
I ship McShep and Johnlock, even when I lived a few doors down from David Hewlett and patted Mars on my way to work. I re-read fanfics when I’m feeling creatively drained like some people gnosh on comfort food when they need to feel warm and fuzzy. I like being silly, and making up stories, and talking about my favourite fanfics in public and online.
I am also an academic. I have a Bachelors in Dramatic Literature and a Masters in Communications Culture. I am a social anthropologist, a fandom scholar, and am versed in film/theatre critique, critical theory, and both queer and feminist studies.
I am also in film. I act. I voice act. I am an extra. I have been a PA, a set-gopher/dogsbody, a driver, a handler, an assistant.
So there’s the context.
TL;DR – I occupy the spaces which I will now talk about.
Okay, so. Why are there some people being assholes to Amanda Abbington and Steven Moffat?
So, yeah. I’ve said that I don’t like some of Moffat’s writing. I’ve said publically that I take umbrage to the fact that Moffat doesn’t seem to understand how to respectfully write female characters. I’ve said publically that I am saddened that there are no female creatives on Doctor Who, and that I think Joss Weadon’s brand of feminism is dated and he needs to take the next step in his works now. I have said publically that the quality of wordcraft and narrativecraft in Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey frustrates me, especially since the standard should have and easily could have been higher. I have publically stated that I feel 50 Shades of Grey is a dangerous novel because I feel that it is Kink Colonialism and not respectful of the lifestyle. I’ve mused publically on how I feel that Moffat is a much better writer when he as a rigorous editor or showrunner working above him.
I’ve said publically that there are shows I no longer watch because I just can’t stomach the writing or the acting or the premise any more. I’ve said publically that there are books I’ve stopped reading, authors I don’t respect as people, and creators that I would never want to be in a room with because their personal views clash very strongly with my own and I don’t know if I could be civil if certain topics about which I am passionate arose.
I have acknowledged what frustrates me about many media texts, and sometimes about the personal views and choices of the creators.
But you know what I have never done?
I have never attacked the creator. I have never told a creator to kill themselves and spare the world. I have never threatened a creator. I have never sent them hate mail, or blogged horrible things about their sexual orientation, marriages, skin colour, genitals, perceived education, or lifestyle. I have never sent them letters or cornered them at conventions to expressly tell them why, to their faces, they are a waste of skin.
It is simple to consume.
It is slightly harder to engage with what you consume. It is a bit harder still to engage critically with what you consume, and even a bit harder than that to have opinions and understand patterns and theories in what you consume.
But that is NOTHING compared to what it takes to CREATE.
You think it’s so goddamn easy to create something and then put it out there for people to consume? Then you fucking do it.
You’ll have the right to call creators horrible names and bully them on social media, and talk smack to the actors who are playing characters that you perceive ruin your OTP when your TV show/film/book series is making you the same kind of money and you have the same kind of fame, and it receives the same kind of critical acclaim. Hopefully by then you’ll have realized that you’re behaving like an entitled little shit and that creating something is fucking hard and there’s always way more cooks in the kitchen than you realize and that sending death threats to actresses playing characters that get in the way of your game of make believe is bloody childish.
And if you haven’t by then? I hope you enjoyed doing that one creative project you did. Because nobody else in the biz will ever willingly work with you again.
And before you say, “But J.M., you can’t know what that’s like!” let me correct that assumption.
I mostly got out of film acting because I have been told that I am fat. I’m not fat, I’m pretty on par with the average, if short and curvy. But it’s a very thin-aggrandizing industry. And you know who keeps telling me I’m fat, have a bad nose, am a no-talent hack?
Not directors. Not casting directors.
Audience members. Yup, the very people who I hoped to touch with my ability to inhabit a character and share a story with have all but bullied me out of the profession. Because I decided that I didn’t need to put up with being shamed in order to be able to participate in making art.
I still voice act, and I would love to do more film/TV/webseries acting, but it’s hard to want to put myself out there, to expose my own body to ridicule.
In 2011 I published my first SF novel, and it was named one of the best books of 2011 by Publishers Weekly, was nominated for two Lambda Literary awards, and was nominated for a CBC Bookie. Sure, some people didn’t like it. They wrote reviews on Amazon that disappointed me. But they were critiquing the story, and that’s fair. Not every narrative, not every writing style, and not every writer will resonate with every reader. That’s expected.
But then a blogger decided that I was a shitstain of a human being. She pulled apart my book, yes, but she also did laughingly shallow research into my life (i.e. as far as I can tell, glanced at my website for about seven seconds), and then proceeded to tell everyone on her blog about how I am, personally, a waste of human flesh and my publisher should burn my work, and that my parents were assholes and I should have been aborted, and that my friends should brain me with blunt instruments and … yeah.
She said such horrible, hateful things that I actually started to have a panic attack. I got paranoid about stalking. I had terrible flashbacks to the bullying I suffered in high school and university. I couldn’t sleep for the nightmares and I felt nauseous all the time. Though I wasn’t clinically diagnosed with it, I actually checked all the boxes of PTSD. I had to take time off my dayjob to get my head back together, and it made me stop writing for a while. I just couldn’t do it without feeling like I was going to vomit all over my keyboard.
And worse still, embedded in all the vitriol and bile and calls to kill myself, there were actually some pretty salient critiques of my writing. She pointed out places where I unknowingly made errors that I was ashamed to have found, and places where I overlooked things where I should have been more clear, or had missed opportunities to be more respectful of ethnicities, cultures, and sexualities.
I learned from those critiques, but not without suffering. And it would have been better all around for both of us if her review had been respectful, compassionate, and professional. Because I read most of what she said (I had to stop eventually, because my hands were shaking to hard to manipulate the mouse), I did take a lesson away from it.
But how many of the hundreds of authors has she abused and bullied and hurt read her blog? How many hundreds of creators who could have engaged in a dialogue with her instead turned their heads away and refused to learn?
Do you see what I’m saying here?
If you don’t like how show-writer X or novelist Y is choosing to tell his/her stories, how, in any way, do you think being an entitled, screaming child about it is going to encourage them to grow and improve? How is bullying, sending death threats, stalking, harassing, and terrifying these people going to turn the media text you are upset and frustrated over into exactly what you want it to be?
This is not a trick question. Here is the answer: it’s not.
The only thing this behavior does is makes a creator stop creating.
You will never get more episodes, the last film, or the final book that way.
The creator will not rewrite their story for you. They will not fire an actor, hire a new one, cut out a character, create a romantic relationship between characters that they never intended to get together, or change the ending just for you.
Even if there’s thousands of you screaming at him/her. That is not how this works, folks.
They make something. You can choose to consume it or not. You can choose to like it or not. You can choose to engage with it or not. You can choose to make fic/art/cosplays/RPGs/fantasies about it or not. You can choose to critique it, discuss it, debate about it, mull over it, and attend conventions devoted to it, or not. You can choose to write to the creators or not.
But you know what? That’s ALL you get to do.
You don’t get to dictate. You don’t get to demand. You don’t get to bully. You don’t get to punish. You can boycott and abstain, vote with your ratings and your dollars, but that’s it. You can write letters or emails respectfully explaining why you didn’t like the media text. You can write reviews. And that’s the extent.
But in dictating, demanding, bullying, threatening, punishing, and acting like an eintitled, passively-agressively consuming little brat, you turn our community into a non-safe-space. And wasn’t the whole POINT of this community to be a safe space for people who want to discus, converse, create, fantasize, wank, play, giggle, sew, dream, and make friends?
In doing those abovementioned horrible things, YOU are the reason actors fear Q&As and conventions. YOU are the reason directors don’t go to symposiums on their own work, or don’t teach at universities. YOU are the reason writers don’t read the fanfic you send them, fear to go on Twitter, live in terror of Facebook and Goodreads.
You make the spaces where we, the community, get to engage with the creators we love unsafe for THEM.
And that STILL won’t make them not tell their stories the way they want to.
So here’s what you CAN do, as a fan:
What you CANNOT Do:
What you CAN Do As A Creator:
(And while I’m on this topic, can we talk about chat show hosts who try to use erotic fanart to shock and titillate guests? Fuck that, okay?
They have no right to take work out of the safe-space in which it was created. It was made for the community, not for shock tactics, and that’s not fair. It’s not fair to expose those artists to bullying, it’s not fair to take the work without sourcing, it’s not fair to force the art out of the context in which it was presented, and it’s not fair to invite the audience and the actor/director/writer to ridicule the artist and by extension the community. Lastly, it is not fair to force that onto actors/directors/writers, to try to ambush and shock the actor.
Some of that stuff could be potentially triggering to the guests. Some of it could be scary to them. Some of that stuff could make it really hard for them to be professional on set the next time they see their collegues. Those are thier FRIENDS and COWORKERS they’re being forced to see in those situations.
They have the right to peruse the fanwork that is made about their show/film/book, and they have the right to comment and engage with fancreators if they so choose, but they also have the right to choose to not to engage with it and chat show hosts are forcing it on them.
And that is humiliating for the creator and the fanartist both, and it is goddamn disrespectful to the fan community. End of.)
TL;DR – So here’s what I’m saying:
Be respectful, okay? Just be respectful. PLEASE.
If you don’t like something, that’s fine. If you want to critique a media text, or a writer’s style and preferred methods of building character and narrative, that’s fine. If you want to discuss publically the problematics you encounter in your media consumption, that’s fine. If you want to tell people why you feel that a media text is flawed and not worth consuming, that’s fine too. If you want to create fantasies and fanworks, if you want to wank, or explore kinks, or just have a laugh using the media text as your foundation, that’s fine. If you want to meet a professional creator and engage in a dialogue about their work (either what you loved, or hated, or what you wish they had done, or wish they hadn’t done) that’s fine.
But please, please do it respectfully.
Don’t scream at the creators. Don’t cajole. Don’t threaten. Don’t embarrass them. Don’t shove your fantasies onto them.
Because you are not the creator of that media text.
You consume it. You love it. You use it as a springboard for your own creativity and that, my friends, is fucking incredible.
But you are not the creator. So back the fuck up.
They made up the media text. They get to tell their own damn story however the fuck they want and you don’t get to scream at them for doing it in a way that doesn’t match what you want.
If you want something different, then make your fanwork or make something original, and enjoy that.
They have worked hard to be where they are. It is not easy to be a professional actor, a show runner, an author, a publisher, a director, a filmmaker, a speaker, an artist. It is not easy to convince people to pay you to make art. It is damned difficult and at every turn there are gatekeepers and higher-ups who are going to critique and demand and snip and add and change. That’s the nature of the business.
But the creators are the ones making it. Not you.
And if you don’t like how they do it, then there’s a very simple solution.
Stop watching. Stop reading. Stop.
And if you are able to accept that it’s not exactly how you wish it was, and still enjoy it anyway, then do. Enjoy it.
And write. And draw. And cosplay. And paint. And play. And have fun. And critique. And discuss. And debate. And speculate.
But do it with some goddamned respect, okay?
Remember Wheaton’s Law: Don’t Be A Dick.
Since posting my response on why I choose not to support Orson Scott Card, I’ve recieved a few emails and comments that all ask, essentially, the same question:
If you don’t want to support Card, why not just pirate the book/film?
One commenter, who I will keep Annon out of courtesy, politely suggested this:
Have you thought of looking into pirating pdfs of books by authors you wish not to support? You may be one of those people who prefers hard copies of books, but as a last resort, pdfs are readily available on the internet in ways that let you avoid supporting the author.
Here is my reply:
Thank you very much for your suggestion.
Yes, I know what pirating and torrents are. I used to use them when I was young, before I realized I could stream TV shows legally from the broadcaster’s websites, and that there were cheap, quick ways to get ahold of digital copies of media legally. (Or, in the case of many libraries, for free. I know the Toronto Public Library lends ebooks, emags, and films/TV shows for free. And using the library means that creators, at least in Canada, get Public Lending Rights cheques.)
Pirating sometimes can have a positive effect – in situations where the media text is being passed on because it’s unavailable in a certain region, it introduces a media text to audience members who would otherwise have no access or idea that the text exists. In that way, I see it as no different than handing your friend your copy of a book and saying “Read this, I know you’ll like it.” When passing around a digital copy happens like that, I think that’s fine, because it’s a personal interaction and it’s meaningful. It comes with a reccomendation, a word of mouth endorsement, and the potential for an expanded audience and readership for the creator. Often the pirated media text is later bought, or inspires the reciever to buy other texts by the same creator.
But more often than not, pirating happens in situations where there are many legal means of acquiring a media text, and usually for very little cost or for free. This sort of pirating is the kind that takes money out of the pockets of the Little Guys of Hollywood, or the publishing industry, or the Boots-On-The-Ground jobs in television.
I especially cannot condone pirating as I am a professional creator who relies on people buying my art so I can pay off my student debt, buy my medications and groceries, and keep a roof over my head. And I am friends with other professional artists who require paycheques to pay their mortgages, feed their kids, and take care of their health bills.
I cannot in good conscious pirate films, books, music, or other creative media. Anyone’s. Even Card’s.
(“But JM!” I hear you cry, “These corporations have millions of dollars! They can afford to get pirated!” The answer is – yes, they have millions. And they use that millions to pay the wages of everyone who works on a film/TV show/Book. Which means their pockets are essentially empty when the media text launches. If they don’t recoup that money at the box office/in sales/in residuals and royalties, then they don’t have enough money to make the NEXT project. Which means people having no jobs, or losing the ones they have.
"You hypocrite!" I also hear you cry. "You complain about piracy and yet you want us to boycott Ender’s Game!"
It’s not hypocrisy. The failed box office of one film sends a corporate message to studios, and does not endanger anyone’s job or position except, perhaps, Card’s. Everyone else who worked on that project has been paid and moved on. It’s a bummer for the studio, but now they know that the rainbow dollar is not impressed with Card’s work, and that it might not be a worthwhile investment next time. Every film comes with failure risks and, in fact, insurance in case it fails.
But pirating hundreds of films, shows, albums, and books means thousands of people not getting paid, and not getting paid regularly. Which means they have to stop creating for a living, because they’re not MAKING a living, and have to take a different job to get by.
You love your favourite band/author/filmmaker/TV show/artist? You want more of their work? Pay for the work they have out so they can keep creating. End of.)
TL;DR - So, while I may not choose to buy Card’s work, I will not steal it. I don’t like the jackass’ views, but I’m also not going to break into his house and steal jewelry from his bedroom, or steal the car from his driveway.
Theft is theft. I know how much effort goes into creating an artistic work and I cannot reward the creators whose work I love by robbing them of their rightfully earned dollars, viewing statistics, ratings, and sales. Especially when I want the artist to be able to afford to create more.
In the case of Card: I’m perfectly content to just not read it.
And, forgive me, but now I have to address what a lot of people seem to be saying without actually saying it. What they are saying is this:
“But how can you possibly be okay with such a large and important gap in your reading history. You HAVE to read Ender’s Game. How can you not? How can you hate the book? The book is so good. The book is WORTH READING.”
And… well… no.
Everyone who has commented about how I can read the book and still not support Card if I steal it is MISSING THE POINT.
I don’t WANT to read it.
Everyone seems to be a bit hung up on the idea that I would really like Ender’s Game if only I read it, if only I gave it a chance. Everyone seems to think that it’s a book worth reading, that one MUST read. That I, and every other person who considers themselves a geek HAS to read.
And while that might be some people’s opinion, I don’t share it.
I don’t believe that there is a SF/F cannon of books that one ABSOLUTELY MUST READ OR ELSE.
There are books that are good, and have become championed classics for a reason. Books that are worth reading, worth recommending, worth passing on to younger generations. We all have those books, but there’s nothing saying that all those books will be the same for each person, nor that they SHOULD be.
I believe in the power of a good book to touch many people, but do I believe that there are books that you MUST read in order to become a proper geek – like articles you must understand to get your PhD? No.
Everyone’s personal taste is just that. Personal.
And I personally do not like military SF. I don’t like reading it. Even if Card wasn’t an abominable human being, I would not choose to read Ender’s Game. In fact, before I ever knew about Card’s views, I read one of his books, “Enchantment”. It was good enough that I wanted to find more of his work to try out, but when presented with Ender’s Game, I declined it.
The number of awards it’s won, the number of people who enjoy it and recommend it will not change the fact that it is still militaristic SF and I don’t like reading things like that.
I haven’t read Dune, I haven’t read Starship Troopers. I just barely like Star Trek, and my favourite episodes are the culture-based ones. I stopped watching DS9 when the war started because I lost interests. It’s just simply, and honestly, not my bag.
There are many books that I feel that people MUST read (Shapechangers by Jennifer Roberson, The Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley) but would I ever pester and condemn and shame people for choosing not to read these books because they just don’t match people’s taste.
Not every book will appeal to every reader.
As an author, yes, I hope I write a book that appeals widely to a vast swath of readers; as a professional writer whose paycheques pay my rent, yes, I hope it hits big so millions of people buy it. But as an artist I understand that all I can do is create something that speaks to me and hope that it touches at least one other person.
So yes, thank you for your suggestion but I do not want to read Ender’s Game, and I certainly will not be pirating it to do so.
If people would like to choose to buy the book (new, so the money goes to Card, or used so the money goes to a local business), then I don’t see why they can’t. If people want to continue to read and enjoy the content of his work, I don’t see a problem with that.
I would PREFER that they didn’t, because of my above stated reasons, but the thing is, I’m not going to police their behaviour. I will not tell people what and whom they are allowed or not allowed to love. That would make me no better than Card.
It’s their personal choice, their personal views, and their personal taste.
And I, personally, don’t think I could ever enjoy reading his books because what I know now of Card will taint the experience. And I never picked up the Ender’s Game series before because I really dislike reading space opera miltaristic SF. It just doesn’t float my boat. So why would I subject myself to a book that I won’t enjoy because of the author AND because of the content?
I’m not trying to tell people what to do. I’m not coming down on the content of Card’s work. I’m not attacking his talent, or his wordsmithing, or the kinds of stories he chooses to tell, and how he chooses to tell them. Skip Ender’s Game has absolutely nothing to do with the subjective, qualitative “goodness” of the stuff between the covers of the novel, nor between the trailers and credits of the film.
I’m just asking that people make a fully informed choice about business practices. And explaining why I made the choice I made.
And hey, if you liked Ender’s Game, cool. I will never discourage people from reading. Reading is magic. If you can turn off the part of you that knows that Card is a douchewaffle, and enjoy the tale for what it is, then also cool. If that’s what makes you happy, then okay.
I just can’t.