Tuesday, September 15, 2020
Tuesday, August 18, 2020
Guest Post by Barb Geiger:
In 1998, I went to New York to visit my darling Dvorah. I'd just come back from living in Japan for a couple of years, but New York was a world in itself. I remember sitting on a horse in mid-afternoon workday traffic at a light, because the stables were three blocks away from Central Park and riding a horse through the park had been a lifelong, bucket-list goal. Devo took me to a bookstore that was like the used bookstores in the movies, with bookcases up to the ceiling and one of those push ladders that goes around the perimetre and the smell of old books and dust had permeated every soft surface in the building.
I bought Lawrence Block's Telling Lies for Fun and Profit. They say if cookbooks have one go-to recipe, it's a good book (though they said that before the age of the internet). I think with writing books, if it has one nugget of truth in it, it's worth it too. This one had a line about a chapter is the length it takes for one thing to change in the book and the example he gave was Chapter 15: I'm pregnant.
It made me think that not just every chapter, but every scene needs to have something that changes. Which is why "Just Write" in general and having a daily word count quota in particular bothers me so much.
2000 words is a good length for the average scene. Some will be more, some less, but when I was trying to recapture my passion in my writing, I'd ask that every time I sat down, I'd write a scene from start to finish. Getting it all down in a single sitting gave the scene a cohesiveness in flow, but also, it made sure when the one (or more) things changed, that the scene ended without the character wandering off and filling up the page with unnecessary filler.
But I didn't write every day if I didn't have that thing that the next scene needed to do. Sometimes I'd be brushing my teeth and the next scene would pop out of my skull fully formed like Athena, but sometimes even if I knew exactly what I wanted to happen, I still couldn't write it. Rather than fighting that block and just pushing through, I examined the lack of desire under the microscope. I had three questions I asked myself and worked through them until I had a solution.
1. Why don't I want to write this scene? This could be an outside problem -- exhaustion often crept in, but again I have skittering spiders in my skull instead of brain matter. If I was bored, I couldn't yet make myself do anything yet. Like a good horse trainer, I realized early on that if a section of my story bores me, it's been boring my reader for a while. Upping the stakes, the conflict and the action did a lot to make me more engaged with writing.
2. Is something missing? I can't say how many times I just wanted to write a simple scene where X happened, but it blocks me for three days. And when I finally sit down, a whole new scene emerges that changes everything, or becomes the emotional heartbeat. When I've worked through step 1 and I still don't want to write it, the problem needs more thinking about.
3. So if step 1 and 2 don't work, and I've given step 2 enough time to work through the problem, it makes me think of the story as a whole. If I still don't want to write, I look at the whole piece. I haven't had to do this for a while, but I've cut up to 40k of a novel in a single sitting, just because the path those series of decisions the characters made led to a blind canyon and the only way out is back. I've read too many books where the writer just ploughs that initial problem further into the story with sheer will, and that's just not how I write.
If I met a baby writer who asked me for their opinion, I'd tell them my "write three books" theory of starting out. But if the writer has already turned their writing from their hobby to a chore they dislike doing, recapturing the motivation to write is their problem.
Because between being motivated to write and being disciplined to write, motivation wins every time. I do write every day. I want to write every day and I enjoy writing every day. But I got there by not writing for days and weeks and on two separate occasions, for more than a year. Learning how to write every day is far more important than just writing every day, and I don't care what Stephen King says.
A later post-script:
And I just want to say I don't think Stephen King is wrong. And it's no concession to say that. But seriously, I do think his take home message is incorrect. When he says pros sit down and do the work it takes to produce at a level to be a professional writer, he's not wrong. But the idea that people should not wait around for inspiration is the bit I have a problem with. I dislike the word "wait" because when you hit that inspiration, you're inspired, and nothing inspires inspiration like inspiration. Amateurs become pros because they stop waiting around for inspiration.
Because no one is waiting with bated breath for work the new writer had to force out. Quality over quantity eventually matters, and too many writers quit trying to write before they ever get there.
Barb Geiger is an author/editor and is currently finishing up an MFA.
Saturday, August 15, 2020
Best Fan Related Work
Derek Newman-Stille, Speculating Canada
Best Fan Organizational
Derek Künsken and Marie Bilodeau, co-chairs, Can-Con, Ottawa
Best Fan Writing and Publications
Polar Borealis, Issues #9 to #12, R. Graeme Cameron editor
Dan O'Driscoll, covers for Bundoran Press and cover for On Spec Magazine #110
Best Visual Presentation
The Umbrella Academy, Steve Blackman, Dark Horse Entertainment
Best Related Work
On Spec Magazine, Diane L. Walton, Managing Editor, The Copper Pig Writers Society
Best Poem/Song (tie!)
At the Edge of Space and Time by Swati Chavda, Love at the Speed of Light, Ancient Hound Books
Bursts of Fire by Sora, theme song for book trailers
Best Graphic Novel
Krampus is My Boyfriend! by S.M. Beiko, Webcomic
Best Short Fiction
This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, Saga Press
Best Young Adult Novel
5 by Susan Forest, Burst of FireLaksa Media Groups Inc
The Gossamer Mage by Julie E. Czerneda, DAW Books
I was blown away this year by the quality of the shortlist: there was no one nominated who didn't deserve to be there. Even though there were several categories where the winner wasn't the work I had voted for, it didn't matter because the winners were still works that I greatly admired. The winners and shortlist makes me proud to be Canadian. The genre of Canadian speculative fiction, both in quantity and quality, has come a very long way since 1980 when the Award started.
I also have to say that the awards ceremony sets the new bar for virtual ceremonies. There were almost no glitches and host Mark Leslie Lefebvre covered perfectly, never fazed. The organization, the smooth switching from site to site, from speaker to speaker, was clearly the result of careful planning and behind the scenes workings of a dedicated logistical crew. It could not have gone better, and in many ways, was better than live (except could actual applause).
Hall of Fame Inductees for 2020
Cory Doctorow; Matt Hughes, Heather Dale
Wednesday, July 15, 2020
Tuesday, July 14, 2020
My thanks to Senior Editor Jana Begovic for choosing it.
Sunday, June 21, 2020
For folks who are unfamiliar with the term, a "MacGuffin" is an object, a device, an event, or a character used in fiction as a plot device to advance the story that is unfolding. We see MacGuffins regularly in speculative fiction, whether it be the Infinity Gauntlet, the Death Star, the One Ring, or the Ark of the Covenant, and these objects serve to push the plot of the story.
However, there is a tendency, particularly in serialized stories, television shows, or movies toward a perceived need to create a bigger and bigger MacGuffin for each book/season/film. Jurassic World even self-consciously referenced this when characters commented on people needing a bigger and more advanced dinosaur to draw them to the park. The idea is that people want to see something bigger and better for the next instalment of their story. They expect characters to "level up" from one story to the next and perceive them as needing a bigger challenge.
I will use Buffy the Vampire Slayer as an example:
Season 1 "Big Bad": A vampire
Season 2 "Big Bad": A vampire Buffy loves
Season 3 "Big Bad": A mayor who becomes a demon and a vampire slayer who has turned evil
Season 4 "Big Bad": A demon/cyborg hybrid and a secret military organization
Season 5 "Big Bad": A demon goddess
Season 6 "Big Bad": A witch turned evil
Season 7 "Big Bad": The First Evil
Each season requires something bigger to follow it in order to keep the audience's attention.
This pattern isn't coming from out of nowhere. It reflects a pattern in our society. Our economic system is one that requires constant growth. The perception is that every company needs to keep growing and expanding. Anything that maintains a pattern and doesn't grow is perceived to be a failure. This pattern affects the way we view anything that doesn't continue to grow and expand and we perceive anything that doesn't expand as stagnant and failing. Even in our own lives, we are expected to constantly grow from our jobs and once we find one that doesn't let us continue growing, we perceive it as stagnating us and we need to move to something else. This type of continual expansion isn't feasible. Eventually we reach limits and pushing further can often cause collapse.
The problem with this bigger and bigger MacGuffin per season is that it tends to eventually end. Eventually, it is impossible to get bigger. Eventually the plot devices also become sillier and sillier and lose their impact. The weapon that can kill a person becomes the weapon that can destroy a city, becomes the weapon that can destroy a country, becomes the weapon that can destroy a planet, becomes the... you get the pattern. As the MacGuffins and the characters become more and more powerful, the story loses its human component. It becomes further separated from something the audience can identify with.
Exponential growth isn't possible. Eventually everything starts to reach its boundaries and can't grow further.
Is it possible for us to continue telling a story without requiring a bigger and bigger MacGuffin? Yes, but that pattern would need to be set early on and growth would have to be challenged in the series. Does the narrator need to keep becoming stronger? Or can they develop and change in different ways? Can they have life happen without getting "better"? Does the danger they face need to get stronger, or can it change? Can each threat bring out something new in the narrator?
I don't think a bigger MacGuffin is always the way to keep a story going. It isn't powerful writing to resort to only one aspect of the story changing. There are so many other parts of the story that can change without having one plot device grow exponentially.