New writing project: 4 Solarpunk stories

(Reposted from Tumblr last night because I've been reposting solarpunk stuff here but also because I feel like stating my writing commitments here makes them more real) So, workshop application season is coming up and I spent the last couple months working on a novel draft, so I’m going to need some fresh short stories soon

And I am obsessed with solarpunk right now and would like to be spending time with that artistically

And in the past, arbitrary challenges have worked really well to motivate me to get writing done

SO: for the next 4 weeks I will be writing 2k-4k short solarpunk stories — one per week, at least two drafts. Weeks end Sunday night; I’m starting now so story 1 gets a few extra days.

They will be themed: Earth, Fire, Water and Air. Because that seems like a reasonable arbitrary rule.

I won’t be publishing them here or anything, but if anyone following me is interested I would like to share them with beta readers. And, for that matter, if anybody else wants to do this with me, we could swap critiques. (No promises on critiquing everybody if this post is absurdly popular.)

The Album Challenge (a thing I wrote in 2012)

In August of 2012, I wrote a very long short story / short novelette for a contest called the Album Challenge, in which writers were challenged to write a story in which each chapter corresponded thematically, and in sequence, to a single album. I wrote one for "Get Better" by Lemuria, about a girl leading a double life in which she was both a conservative Christian college student and a gay punk-rock singer with blue hair.  It used to be posted here, but I lost it when I accidentally corrupted all the data on all the files in my ipage account in the spring of 2013.

Fortunately I had also posted it on Tumblr, so it wasn't lost forever -- and today, finally, is the day I've gotten around to re-posting it here. It's got its own page, which when I get around to it I will eventually list in a collection of my publications. (That may be a while, because since I lost my other experimental fiction in spring 2013, too, this will be the only thing I have published, and I feel preemptively embarrassed at the idea of having a 'fiction by me' tab that has one entry, a self-published contest entry.)

In the meantime, here's a link to my Album Challenge: "Get Better"

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Defending semicolons

Yesterday I reblogged a thing on Tumblr. It was a list of writing tips, many of which I agreed with, some of which I disagreed with but didn't outright object to. One of them, though -- a transphobic comment that Kurt Vonnegut made, disparaging semicolons -- I cut, and replaced it with a different piece of Vonnegut's advice.

I am pro-semicolons in fiction. I think they have a legitimate place in fiction writing; furthermore, I think the objection to semicolons emerges from a problematic trend in American literature of rejecting complexity of every sort.

There are, frankly, ideas that are best expressed through the use of semicolons. Not because they add new information, but specifically because they allow a writer to juxtapose two or more ideas without declaring an idea of the relationship between them.

For example, here's a phrase with a semicolon: "She was angry; she was tired." Using a semicolon allows you to give those two ideas equal weight, and to present them as separate ideas that nonetheless are meant to occupy the reader's experience of the narrative at the same time.

Other ways you can present those phrases all carry different meaning. "She was angry and she was tired" presents those states as specifically in harmony with each other. "She was angry but she was tired" presents them as explicitly contradictory. In the 'and' sentence you might expect her to lash out because she's out of patience. In the 'but' sentence you might expect her to want to lash out, but decide not to bother for lack of energy.

"She was angry: she was tired" implies that she's angry because she's tired. "She was angry, she was tired" implies she's tired because she's angry. You could maybe achieve a similar effect with an em-dash: "She was angry -- she was tired." And I do, also, like em-dashes quite a lot. But they carry more energy, more abruptness than a semicolon, so if you wanted that sentence to sound exhausted you'd lose something by losing the semicolon.

In a recent post for the Tor/Forge blog, John Scalzi talked about his non-use of semicolons in his recent murder mystery, Lock-In:

There’s another thing; semicolons create a certain sense of pace in one’s writing. There are few sentences with semicolons that could be described as “punchy”; indeed the presence of semicolon suggests rather the opposite. Sentences with semicolons are languid, or unhurried, or even draggy; they take their time to get to their point. Often that is the point; a writer who knows his or her craft knows there are times when a point will be better made by going a circuitous route. But when every sentence starts taking the long way home, even without you intending it, that’s a problem.

He explained that, while semicolons played a major role in his writing up to that point, they weren't appropriate for the kind of suspense that a murder mystery demands. And, certainly, there are books that are better for containing no semicolons, or would be better if they contained no semicolons.

But I think the categorical proscription against them stems less from a sense of good advice, and more from a weird, fetishistic competition that the American writing tradition seems to be engaged in, that says: "How un-British can we possibly be, without actually using a different language?"

Hemmingway and e e cummings cut as much as they could from their writing to see what they could achieve with the minimum of adornment. Mark Twain and Stephen Crane took local dialect and vernacular to extremes. In The Elements of Style William Strunk and E.B. White turn what is pretty good advice for folks who want to go from English amateurs to functional communicators in the workplace into a religious canon of American writing instructions, from which deviation is, they give the impression, morally wrong.  And Kurt Vonnegut and Stephen King talk about writing in a personal, local accent that sometimes sounds like they think you shouldn't ever use any words you learned after you turned 14.

I think this attitude is wrong. But more importantly, I think it's symptomatic of a trend in American narratives that says all complication is unnecessary complication. I mean, I don't think that people objecting to semicolons is the same thing as refusing to discuss complex, systematic issues like global warming or racism. But I think they both build from the same truism: that anything elaborate can be made simple, without losing meaning; that complexity is a form of dishonesty.

It's one thing to say that a lot of people use semicolons wrong; to say that it's hard to use complex structure to make effective points. I think it's a great idea to hand a copy of The Elements of Style to every high school student and say "Master this before moving past it." If a narrative can be written clearly and correctly without any sentences longer than ten words, then it's probably a bad idea to throw in elaborate stylistic flourishes.

But semicolons have a place in fiction writing. The solution to difficult realities is not to pretend that we'd all be better off pretending they don't exist.

So close to done!

So today I sat in a Papa Ginos for 3 hours, ate an entire large pizza, and worked on my novel. I'm not sure if I've mentioned this before? But I'm hand-writing this whole draft on yellow legal pads. I did the same thing with ( the first draft of this novel | my first novel ) and it worked pretty well, because it really forces the "You can only move forward" feeling that I think is necessary sometimes when writing. The most back-up editing I allowed myself was brief margin notes on the current and previous days' writing, and, once, cutting the last two or so sentences from the previous day in order to move forward properly.

I've just gotten past the climax of the novel, and I think at this point it's fair to say that it's definitely the third draft of my first novel, not something new. The story didn't end up taking me to new and unexpected places, it continued all the way through to be what I intended it to be: a restructuring and tightening of the plot of the previous draft.

(That included: changing who the main character was, who the villain was, what their relationship was, cutting whole characters, arcs, institutions and settings entirely, and adding a lot of cool new stuff that I'm really excited about, including superheroes, an underground city, and nonbinary people with magical plant powers.)

And the climactic scene ended up playing out pretty close to exactly how it did last draft.

After that part, in the first and second drafts of this story, there were just a couple pages of "This is what the heroes did after that," and barely a reference to what happened next to the character who clearly should have been the main one.

So, I have no idea how the next chunk of the story is going to go. I am officially off the map. But, at least, I should be able to finish this draft before the start of the semester.

running out of memories?

I had a nightmare the other night that my little brother had turned into some kind of monster and was creating a sort of wintery post-apocalyptic hellscape evocative of World War I imagery in which I had to fight to survive, and, hopefully, prevail over his destruction. After getting over the terror, when I woke up, it was actually pretty reassuring.

Right now I'm working on a draft of a novel into which I'm pouring a ton of my anger about the circumstances of my childhood and early adulthood, and the people I ought to have been able to trust, and by whom I was instead threatened, gaslighted, and occasionally physically harmed.

And I've had what I know is a kind of anxiety writers I admire would recognize (because they've talked about it) -- The fear that there's no more story in you after this one.

It barely even begins to make sense, but I've been afraid that I'm going to use up all the sad in my life, write one good book, and then never be able to accomplish anything written down again. So it was a pretty reassuring experience to have a nightmare reminding me that there are yet-untapped avenues of pathological fear and mistrust in my mind.

I have such a good story idea you guys

Or, maybe I don't. I'm not sure. It feels exciting, but sometimes really bad ideas feel that way for the first few hours. The idea is a new treatment for people with mental health problems, who can benefit from therapy. It would be kind of like a drug, but more like additional behavioral therapy outside the therapist's office.

The story would have to take place in a near-future, where augmented reality is becoming truly viable but not yet widespread. The protagonist would be offered a trial therapy for her invasive thoughts and self-destructive habits: maybe a chip or a brain implant, or maybe something as simple as an app. I imagine it would probably be something semi-intrusive, but it could be an add-on to the protagonist's pre-existing augmentations. (That could explain why she's a good candidate for the trial.)

The treatment would be a sort of helpful psychological buddy -- a voice, or visual entity, or both, possibly more -- probably responsive to what tends to work with the patient -- that monitors the environment and the patient's physiological and emotional state, and gives advice on how to respond in a healthy way.

It would be more effective, a better AI, than the first level of problems I could come up with as a writer. It wouldn't just try to make her happy all the time. It wouldn't, for example, undermine a grieving process to make her feel superficially better, but it would discourage unhealthy expressions of that grief, like drinking heavily or lashing out at other people.

It would remind her to drink water, to take a shower and brush her teeth, to do laundry -- but it would be more conscious than a to-do list of what she needs to hear in the moment. When she's perfectly motivated to get up on time and eat a good breakfast and wash up, it wouldn't nag her about it. And it wouldn't issue commands. It'd just remind her, stuff like "You'll feel better today if you take a shower," or "I know you're feeling down, so now's the time to take extra care of yourself, to help get through this rough patch."

This story would be hard to write, because every instinct I have when I think about how to add conflict is that the AI would screw things up, but that approach defeats the purpose of the story -- then it's just "Psychiatric technology is bad, mmkay?"

The best conflicts I've come up with so far today are that the device starts to influence her in ways that obviously make sense to program, but that conflict with her personal goals for treatment, and not just in an "I identify with my illness in a self-destructive way" kind of way; or, that the company goes live with the commercial version of the drug, and she notices herself being encouraged to make more questionable decisions that clearly benefit the pharmaceutical company and its connected companies. The voice might say "That hat looks really good on you, it's okay to treat yourself once in a while." And she might notice, later on, that the company that makes the hat is owned by the same umbrella company that makes the AI.

Or it could just be conflict with people who think that Augmented Reality therapy is inherently bad -- they don't have to be right. Maybe it could be about one or more toxic relationships disintegrating as she starts to notice how often the AI points out that her friend is making her feel shitty or saying hurtful things on purpose.

I can't write this story right now, but I'm probably going to eventually. In the meantime, if anybody wants to steal it, go for it. I've got no problem writing about stuff that other people also write about.

I have more thoughts on characters that read as intelligent

I have more thoughts on characters that read as intelligent. (First post yesterday.) Yesterday I wrote mostly about morally positive, or at least neutral, intelligent characters, and characters who lack the described qualities, and are consequently morally flawed. But super-intelligent villains is a major way that intelligence plays out in fiction. The podcast I was responding to yesterday[1. I did finish it, and they did not ultimately end up talking about intelligence as a way culturally read certain constellations of values.] (Warning for casual ableism) spent more time on evil smart people than good smart people -- and they spent a lot of time on what qualities other than intelligence can provide a hero with a moral advantage and greater sympathy.

So I want to spend a little time on qualities that characters can have, that make them read as intelligent, and also make them read as awful people.

Manipulativeness: Evil or morally complicated[2. Somebody remind me to blog later about my feelings about the word 'complicated.'] intelligent characters often show this quality by arranging circumstances such that other people make pseudo-informed choices that benefit the villain, rather than the person making the choice.

Gaslighting: This is manipulativeness on a more long-term scale. Gaslighting is a form of abuse in which a person routinely and persistently arranges for another person to doubt their perception of reality and ability to make judgments.

I'm pretty sure this is less common among actual villains than among protagonist antiheroes who are meant to seem morally gray but ultimately justified. Which is awful. The reason I don't think it's common in antagonists is that the goal is to diminish a person's agency, and if the antagonist is doing that to the protagonist, they're undermining the writer's ability to progress the story.

I'm not sure about that, though. This is something I'll be keeping an eye out for -- who gaslights in popular media, and how is it portrayed: awful? clever? darkly romantic and edgy?

Performance of intellectual status: This would be hard to make obvious in fiction, I think, but the assholes I know in real life who prefer to be seen as intelligent routinely browbeat other people into agreeing with them; brag early and often about when they're right about things, and explain away or ignore the times they're wrong; make stuff up if they don't know the answer to a question; and pick fights about technicalities and peripheral details so that they can 'win arguments' without engaging with meaningful, provable central points.

Pandering: Characters can score a lot of points within the story by agreeing with and rationalizing for popular prejudices; those who are supposed to come off as intelligent can be shown disagreeing with the prejudice when away from the cameras.

Just generally lying: Everything above so far has been basically this -- the main application of cleverness for evil is lying early, often, and elaborately. There's one more, though, below, that isn't just a form of lying.

Modernist rational certainty: A lot of really dark, horrible, evil things happened in the 19th and 20th centuries. (This stuff is all still happening, but if you go back more than 60 years more people agree about which stuff is the evil stuff.) There were a huge variety of genocides, systematic exploitation of labor, the deliberate erasure of cultures, advances in weapons technology that created a whole generation of nihilists, increasingly comprehensive surveillance apparatuses in every state.

And the people who organized these efforts were intelligent, pretty much in the textbook European standard way. They enacted extraordinary crimes against humanity, knowingly. On purpose. And probably at least as often as not, they thought they were doing the right thing.

It was a common belief in early US history that taking land from the native peoples was the morally right thing to do, because Europeans believed they were failing to use that land efficiently. The scientific institution -- the real one, the one we're still using today -- categorized humans into separate classes, inventing race as we know it and ranking them by intelligence. White Europeans and Americans used populations of people of color and other marginalized groups in non-consensual, harmful medical experiments, rationalized as being a worthwhile sacrifice for the greater good. The Tuskegee Experiment is a vivid example, but it is very much not the only one.

My point is, there is a very strong and very much still alive tradition in Western culture of believing that there is a single, morally correct path of progress towards the 'greater good,' a path that necessarily entails accelerated industrialization and the sacrifice (read: genocide) of human lives, especially marginalized human lives. And the heroic figure of that narrative, the champion of it, is, basically by definition, an avatar of the Western notion of intelligence.

Yesterday I wrote a post that suggested that 'intelligent' is necessarily the same as 'morally good.' I want to make it very clear that (a.) that is not what I believe, and (b.) people who do believe that are a very good candidate for the role of evil intelligent antagonist in stories.

Thoughts on writing intelligence

I was listening to the latest episode of the writing craft podcast Hide and Create on the way home from work today -- the episode is about writing characters who are smarter than the person writing them. Here's the link -- content warning for casual ableism. I have thoughts on this topic, and I was going to write them a response, but I just realized there are 15 minutes left in the episode and I wanted to write it now, so I'm going to write this as an independent post instead, in case the rest of the episode covers exactly these points.

I think that intelligence -- in the sense that they discuss in the podcast, the fancy, mystery-solving, quick-witted, Sherlock kind of intelligence -- isn't a matter of any innate biological or developmental quality. I think it's a matter of values.

First of all, obviously, some characters value having good information more than others. Beyond that, though, some characters value different systems of information gathering than others. Most characters believe they're generally right about things, but if your character's system for verifying information is "That sounds about right" or "It stands to reason' or "My buddy Matt says so," their information is probably going to be wrong more often than someone whose system is "I've read about it from multiple sources" or "Hang on, I'm not sure. Let me check."

I think an important thing to know about your character is, if they encounter a situation they're unfamiliar with, and then have sixteen hours off-screen, when they come back, have they looked it up on Wikipedia? One of my favorite smart-person lines is in the Avengers, when someone asks Stark when he suddenly became an expert on gamma radiation, and he said, "Last night -- am I the only one who did the reading?"

The cast of Hide and Create struggled a bit to figure out how to discuss the other end of the spectrum. I think that the other end of the spectrum -- if the literary manifestation of conventional intelligence is values -- is prejudice and willful ignorance.

Characters who consistently act on false presumptions about the way the world works, about how other people feel or behave, are going to find things working out in ways they didn't plan for, and are going to look like asses while they do it.

Other values -- like pride, preventing someone from admitting they're wrong to correct their behavior -- can also contribute to a character's failure to represent the conventional ideal of intelligence.

Where I left off listening, they were taking the idea of a character who is not intelligent in different directions -- comic characters, like Joey from Friends, or virtuous but not intelligent characters, like Sam from Lord of the Rings. But I think that both of those characters' relationship to intelligence, perceptiveness, curiosity and openness can be better evaluated in terms of their values than in terms of some kind of innate INT stat.

It's been a while since I've either seen the movies or read the books, but if I recall correctly, Sam knew a ton of stuff.  Joey's priorities didn't line up with the markers of conventional intelligence in Friends, like Ross's did (I hate Ross so much don't even get me started) but he was perceptive of his friends' emotions and caring towards them, like Ross definitely wasn't.  I don't think that difference is a matter of different qualities of brain, I think it's a matter of different value systems.

Maybe there's some amount of talent and innate preference involved in what a person's strengths are, but I think that influence is much, much smaller than what kind of values a character holds and how they apply them to their everyday practice of life.

Roadblocks in a (third|first) draft

I'm working on (the first draft of a new novel | the third draft of my first novel), and I have encountered a few story problems that I'm sure I've bumped into before, but about which I don't think I've ever been quite so decisive. My characters had just escaped an evil underground puppet king, and they were trying to figure out where to go next. The conversation went pretty much like this:

Kid: The hotel?

Zooey: We know that's compromised.

Kid: A different hotel?

Zooey: He'll probably find us there too.

Kid: Your parents' house?

Zooey: no. They're terrible.

Hollyseed: The underground safe house we were just at?

Zooey: No. I don't want to lead puppet dude back there.

You see my dilemma? Or: You see my mistake?

I have been trying pretty hard to power forward in this draft, not go back and change anything on previous days' work, just keep moving forward no matter what. But that was where I left off the other day, and when I picked it back up again, I realized I had a problem. All that was left for me to do was to make up a new place, with new significance, containing new characters, and moving my people farther away from the story.

I ended up just cutting Zooey's last objection. The house underground is, after all, pretty safe. And that's where the characters are who know what's going on. And that's where the plot can keep happening. And, at a time of particularly extreme turmoil in her life, that's the only place in the city where Zooey is going to feel at all safe.

In the first draft of this novel, I had eight peripheral characters attached to the main plot. In the second draft, I cut it down to like five. In this draft, it's three, but mostly only one, and the main characters from the first one have been cut completely.

I think I need to do the same thing with places in this book -- keep it minimal. Go back to places I've been, rather than inventing new ones over and over.

Trans magic

In the story I'm currently working on, magic is a cultural force -- that is, fields of magical ability grow out of specific cultures and subcultures. I'm doing it this way for two reasons: One, because it's an alternate-present real-world setting, and this way magic can't be an organized, industrialized, capitalized system, so it break the implicit world building of just having most of the real world intact; and two, because this way the use of magical abilities or magic-species things as a metaphor for representation can't ever be done without having actual, real-life representation. So, my protagonist (a trans woman) just met one of the 'earth children' (name possibly to be changed later) -- a subculture of teenage nonbinary people, who mostly know each other through the internet, and who are mostly homeless, having been kicked out of their homes when their magical status became undeniably evident. The earth children, around when they would normally have gone through puberty, grew and matured in a more-or-less androgynous way, and acquired earth or plant-like characteristics.

The earth child my protag, Zooey, met is called Hollyseed, and sie grows a fine, dark, long grass instead of hair. Other earth children I have in mind are a kid with patches of bark on zir arms and chest, a kid with stone-like skin, and a kid with soft bioluminescence.

There are, or are going to be, other kinds of trans, queer, LGBTQIAP+ and MOGAI magics, but apart from the earth children all I've come up with so far is strong disguise magic for kids staying in the closet. Anybody got any other ideas?

Posts that won't show up on my own Tumblr feed

(because I have spiders blacklisted through Tumblr Savior) After peripherally blogging about spiders yesterday, a thought that's been kicking around in my head for a while (that if I were emperor of all, I would ban depictions of spiders on any packaging that doesn't literally contain spiders) ballooned into a larger narrative that I want to evacuate from my head. So, I'm writing it up here.

The thought was that if I were emperor of everything, and I banned all depictions of spiders, depictions of spiders would totally become the symbol for the resistance. I assume there'd be a resistance because if one person were in charge of everything they'd end up being brutally tyrannical to at least one group out there, no matter how hard they tried not to, because nobody can hold and negotiate between all the narratives of humankind all on their own.

And if there were a fairly obvious narrative about that emperor, who for the purposes of my sanity is now not me for the rest of this post, and is someone else, who I hereby declare that I am metaphysically incapable of imagining, that person's ultimate comeuppance for their violence against the resisting group would be -- I hope you can put the rest of this sentence together in your head, because I honestly can't write it.

There. Now this idea is out of me, and is banished from my pool of stories to ruminate over.

So many ideas

I'm near the end of the first full day of this year's Readercon, and I have learned/heard about/been reminded of so many cool things. The last thing I went to was a slideshow on fantasy maps, during which I decided that the next draft of my NaNoWriMo novel from last year is going to be a stand-alone, incredibly detailed map. Or, if not stand-alone, an atlas, with detailed keys.

I went to the Interstitial Arts Foundation Town Hall Meeting, and unexpectedly stumbled onto an opening for editor of the IAF Tumblr -- I won't be alone, but I'm going to get to start contributing significantly to the Interstitial Arts Foundation, which I've wanted to do since my first Readercon. The tumblr is called interstitialarts. There isn't really anything there yet, but soon.

Soon.

I'm going to head back out and do more cool stuff now. I might blog some more this weekend, just because there's going to be so much awesome stuff to blog about. If not, tty Monday.

Readercon starts tomorrow night and I am super excited

This weekend is one of the biggest things I look forward to every year[1. One of the things I look forward to most? One of the biggest events that I look forward to? One of the things I look forward to that is literally physically large in size? I don't even know.] -- Readercon, the only convention I can afford to go to.[2. Basically: I can afford one convention a year, and for about five years now Readercon has beat out Anime Boston. Although, tbh, not-going-to-conventions would beat out Anime Boston at this point in my life.] It's like three days of going to a college that unashamedly teaches a full curriculum of sci fi and fantasy, with loads of teachers who are intimately familiar with the field, and textbooks that are priced as if everyone involved were human beings who cared about each other. (The textbooks are the bookstore. Mostly, they're just cool books.) It falls right in the middle of summer, which is awesome because I kinda hate being out of school, and Readercon is like a dry stone in a wide river; it gives me a place to stand and catch my breath.

And though I still don't have any professional fiction sales, this year for the first time I'll be going as someone who's paid, regularly, as a writer! Well, as a journalist. Which is still basically a writer!

This is also the first year I'm going without my friend Mike, whose job is sending him to California this week. It'll be a new experience, being there alone. Maybe a little scary, but I think I can deal.[3. Note to self: double check that I have all my medications packed.]

Jesus take the wheel -- on avoiding self-censorship

The novel I'm working on is going pretty well, I think. And the reason I think it's going pretty well is that I'm trying really, really hard not to stop myself from putting in stuff I want to put in. For some reason (that reason is fear and self-doubt) when I write, most of the time, I throw out about two thirds of the ideas I have. Mostly, it's the ones that seem particularly good. I think, 'can't do that, it's too risky,' or 'that'll turn off editors,' or 'I'll save that one for later, when I've proven that I can write.' Consequently, a lot of my work is pretty boring.

The biggest one, though, is 'what if my family reads this?' Which is the one I'm working hard to ignore this time around. I read somewhere recently that you should write as if everyone you've ever known is dead. So if I imagine that my whole family is dead, it's a lot easier to let myself write a book about a genderqueer twentysomething dealing with the aftermath of emotionally distant, neglectful parents and an abusive older brother. If I then refuse to leave out the kitchen sink, I get to open the book with a eulogy for that older brother, saying exactly everything that *ahem* my character wants to say about *ahem* her brother. Plus, I get superheroes, and magic, and a super-tower in the Greater Boston Area for queer kids in need of protection and support.

And if editors don't like it? Well, I'll keep writing new stuff after, but I'd also like to hold out for an agent / editor who *does* like books about queer superheroes and messages like it's okay to hate your abuser even if they're family.

And also I'm really loving the idea of superheroes' agents.

Superheroes!

So I'm stepping away from the story I was working on, with the nb superhero with smoke powers, in order to loop back around to my first novel, draft number 3, which takes place in the same setting. The thing is, I'm tossing the character who had the most competence for action in the first two drafts. He was pointless -- he had no real motive to participate in the plot, only ever did stuff by the prodding of the new main character or also-tossed peripheral character, but the book has a lot of action-adventure stuff going on, and he was the one who knew what he was doing.

I've done a lot of developing in the setting since the previous draft, including the addition of a ton of superheroics. And I've decided how I want to give my protagonist the skills she's going to need to succeed in the plot without the help of a pointless peripheral professional adventure dude.

She's going to be a superhero's agent!

This solves two problems: 1.) I wanted her to be in town for a convention, so she could be present for the plot but without having to live there. Superhero conventions have got to be a cool event, so I'm looking forward to writing about one. And 2.) Superheroes' agents have got to have some amount of self defense and espionage training, otherwise they're a serious potential point of weakness for a hero.

bulleted lists and footnotes

I use a lot of bulleted lists in my non-fiction writing. Like, I use bulleted lists in almost all of my blog posts, and in essays at school. It only just occurred to me, though, that that's an element of my writing style. There are certain thresholds that I know I pass in my mind when I'm writing. For lists, I could probably make a flowchart. If: less than three items, in paragraph. If not, if items follow a specific logical flow, in paragraph. If not, if items can be clearly organized by importance or sequence or chronology or just that they have corresponding numbers, numbered list. If not, bulleted list.

I have a similar sequence for footnotes. Roughly, the shortest asides are separated by commas. Next up, em dashes. Parentheses for long asides or asides more tangential than the dashes imply. Footnotes for asides that become their own complete points, but would derail the piece to address in-text, or for extremely tangential asides.

I think I'm gonna try using bulleted lists more in my fiction writing, too. Just to try it out.

Why you should just write "Said."

I'm the copy editor on my school's newspaper, which means I fix all the horrible stylistic problems in the stories we publish by Journalism 1 students.  Occasionally, I get frustrated.  Below is a letter I wrote to one of the Journalism 1 professors, to pass along to their students.  Changes from the exact original text have been noted in square brackets.

###.

DEAR JOURNALISM STUDENTS:

The word 'stated' doesn't belong in your stories. People don't 'state' things when they talk to journalists. They say them. Your sources didn't 'state.' They said.

In writing, the word 'said' is invisible. People don't read it when they read stories, they just see that set of letters and their brain understands that the quote they just finished belongs to the name next to that word.

Other words, like 'whispered,' 'muttered,' 'shouted,' 'exclaimed,' or 'stated,' are not invisible. They're like little rocks on the path of reader comprehension, and each one is a chance to trip your reader out of the story.

I think that a lot of you do it because you think it sounds more formal or proper than 'said.' There are two reasons that's bad:

First, it doesn't. It makes you sound like a cop, and cop speak is basically designed to be confusing and misleading, because cops don't want civilians to be clear on what's going on, because uncertain people are less likely to attack than confident people. That's fine for cops, but it's exactly the opposite of what you, a journalist, are supposed to do.

That leads neatly into the second point: Stop trying to be formal. Your job as a journalist isn't to be formal. Your job as a journalist is to be clear. Formal writing is a system designed to demonstrate proof of status, and it therefore by design excludes people who haven't had the privileges necessary to cultivate that skill. As a journalist, it is 100 percent absolutely NOT EVER your job to write in a way that helps hide the truth from poor people.

If you're interested in a more detailed discussion of classism and writing styles, you can reach me at [REDACTED] [You can just comment here]. But even if you don't care, or think I'm wrong, about everything above, for frak's sake STOP WRITING 'STATED' WHEN YOU MEAN 'SAID.' If nothing else gets through to you, just remember that the word 'stated' is never going to make it into the paper, and every time I have to FIX IT because you USED IT even after I TOLD YOU NOT TO is incredibly annoying.

Sincerely,

[REDACTED]

Am I getting worse at writing or better?

In the last couple weeks, everything I write has seemed really, really terrible.  Not in just a low-self-esteem kind of way:  I'm making mistakes I didn't think I'd make, and I'm looking at them and failing to work out how to fix them. I can imagine that two things are happening here:

1. I'm exhausted and sliding into a depressive episode, and it's affecting my ability to write coherently, or

2. I have reached a new threshold in my writing, and I'm suddenly noticing tons of stuff that has always sucked about my writing, that I am now in a place to start improving.

I'm going to assume for the purposes of my own wellbeing that it's the latter.

So much not blog

I literally did not blog at all this week.  I am so unhappy about that. Here are some of the things I did instead of blogging:

  • I had the first real week of all my classes, including more reading than I expected and a nonzero amount of homework
  • I started my internship at The Eagle Tribune, where I've written two articles and am working on a third
  • I worked 4 out of 5 nights at Barnes & Noble
  • I played a lot of the Sims
  • I didn't write
  • Then, feeling guilty about not writing, I wrote a four-page ramble that shifts between me complaining that I'm not getting any writing done and a second-person description of life inside a large, brightly lit sphere of indeterminable color with no apparent gravity
  • I drove.  Like, there is so much driving in my life now.  At least two hours a day.  It's genuinely upsetting.  I want a train.
  • I had a therapy appointment
  • I saw Frozen again.  For the fourth time.  Have I blogged about Frozen yet?  No?  Okay
  • Here's a list of things I need to blog about soon:
    • Frozen
    • My Sims family
    • My internship (including links, that should exist pretty soon, to actual articles I really wrote in real life on a proper news website and everything)
    • How much I still wish there was comprehensive public transportation everywhere in the US, even though I have a car now, because I still hate driving so very, very much
    • Probably my classes or something
      • Sex & Gender in a Global World
      • My final in S&G, which is going to be a 10 minute presentation, probably on gender in Science Fiction and Fantasy
      • Here's a list of books/series I can think of off the top of my head that have significant sex/gender themes:
        • The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin
        • Glasshouse, by Charles Stross
        • The Eight Worlds Series, which apparently was the inspiration for Glasshouse, by Charles Stross
        • The Song of the Lioness, by Tamora Pierce
        • I need to stop listing things now
        • /list
      • /list
    • /list
  • /list

/post

Novel 1 Draft 3

I'm thinking about starting up the actual writing of the third draft of my first novel soon. By "Soon," I mean "Today."

By "Thinking of," I mean "decided to yesterday, but I'm terrified."[1. I realize that means the correct version of the first sentence of this post therefore reads "I'm decided to yesterday," but I'm lazy and I'd rather make a footnote about it than rework the construction.]

I can't remember how many years ago it was that I did the first two drafts of that book, but I do know that one of the things that made it easy  was the fact that I didn't care about it being any good.  I knew it wasn't going to be any good, so I just went with it.  The first draft didn't even make any sense.  The second draft only had the advantage of coherency over the first -- I'm pretty sure there are sections that consist of big bracketed "PUT AN ACTION SCENE HERE" notes.

Here are some things I know I'm throwing out from the second draft going into the third:

  • Most of the structure of the vague city it took place in
  • The corporations that served vaguely as antagonists and support structures
  • The internationally wanted con artist
  • The huge collection of cool magical toys
  • Almost all of the main cast

Here are some things I'm not yet sure about keeping:

  • The dreamscape
  • The monkey
  • The magic skull

Here are some of the things that are new in this draft:

  • The alternate history United States in which magic had its own industrial revolution
  • The city just north of Detroit

Making that list has only made me feel a little more hopeless, but I'm going to leave it there because I thought it was going to help, and it might still help later.

I am scared.  But I'm still going to start it tonight.

After work.